An engaging showbiz and courtroom drama, hampered by underdeveloped characters.

Waiting in the Wings

A debut historical novel details the life of an early 1920s vaudeville starlet whose career was tragically cut short.

Rees bases her story on the real-life tale of her great aunt, who was a big name in San Francisco’s vaudeville scene. Ruby Adams has a tough upbringing, living in a shantytown after the earthquake of 1906, but through pure charm and panache is able to build herself up into a local star, loved by San Franciscans as one of their own. At the outset of the novel, she’s in the middle of a successful run at the Strand Theater, set to marry the wealthy John Davis, a popular bootlegger, and about to make her move into the burgeoning film industry. One night, though, tragedy strikes, as a falling sandbag backstage strikes Ruby, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. The rest of the tale follows the aftermath of the accident, as lawyer Charles Brennan constructs a case against the theater and its proprietors in order to recoup the potential income that Adams has lost. Arrayed against Adams and Brennan, though, are some sketchy characters—a few with connections to the city’s Mafia. Morris Markowitz and Moses “Moe” Lesser, the owners of the theater, hire the bombastic Col. Herbert Choynski to head up their defense team. Most of the latter half of the book focuses on Brennan’s and Choynski’s moves and countermoves before the trial. The tale eventually culminates in the dramatic courtroom finale. The work is clearly a labor of love, full of little historical details about the time and place that make it clear Rees has thoroughly researched her family’s story. The characterization and plot are somewhat simplistic, however—the players are either wholly admirable or malevolent, and readers rarely see the better or worse sides of them. This lack of nuance somewhat saps the yarn of suspense, as it seems impossible for Adams to lose a case against such monsters. But to Rees’ credit, the tale sticks to the history and delivers a murky and unexpected ending. Historical buffs and lovers of the stage should find something to like in this account.

An engaging showbiz and courtroom drama, hampered by underdeveloped characters.

Pub Date: July 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9976702-1-9

Page Count: -

Publisher: Regina Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2016

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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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