Good reads to be pondered over.

LAND RUSH

STORIES FROM THE GREAT PLAINS

Bookended by sections of memoir and history, these four short stories give a vivid picture of Oklahoma past and near-present.

Reiswig (Water Boy, 2012, etc.) was raised in Oklahoma and came of age in the 1950s. The first portion of memoir tells of life on the farm for Reiswig when he was a boy following in his father’s footsteps. It culminates with his initiation in castrating a young bull, an act that leaves him dizzy and burdened with new wisdom he can’t yet comprehend. “The Box Supper” features a boy of about the same age and a vaguely menacing character named Dootie Poor. Sexual tensions are writhing just below the surface at an innocent-seeming school fundraiser. Again, this boy knows without really knowing that things are not as they seem. In fact, all the short stories basically concern a boy about to discover himself; sometimes he is referred to as “the boy,” and his parents are “the man” and “the woman,” giving the stories a reverberating universality. In “Two-Door Hardtop,” Dean’s uncle Bernie, about to fight in Korea, buys a brand-new Ford Crown Victoria and entrusts it to Dean (who can’t even drive yet) for the duration. But a very different—shellshocked—Bernie comes home and is never whole and sound again. When Bernie eventually sells the car, Dean feels betrayed. “Fair Game” is a punning title referring to high school football, rivalries and even bird hunting. In “Bright Angel Trail,” family history and dynamics are exposed while the vacationing family travels a desperate hike down that titular trail in the Grand Canyon. The closing memoir section relates the Reiswig family history, starting when they were “Volga Germans” in Russia in the 18th century and then early settlers of the Oklahoma Panhandle, living through the Dust Bowl and other trying times. They were tough people living in an elemental landscape. Reiswig writes clearly and well in a style as simple and open as the high plains, giving readers the Oklahoma of fundamentalist religion, fanatical high school sports and all the things that hold people together through their hardscrabble existences. You don’t have to be an Okie to appreciate that.

Good reads to be pondered over.

Pub Date: July 30, 2014

ISBN: 978-1480809192

Page Count: 118

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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