CIVILWARLAND IN BAD DECLINE

STORIES AND A NOVELLA

A debut collection so friendly and casual in style (pieces first appeared in Harper's and The New Yorker) that it takes a while before you realize what a frightening world Saunders has created. His is a dystopian vision of a "degraded cosmos,'' a future in which leisure and history combine in theme parks for the rich while the rest of humanity fights over scarce resources. Saunders's weird naturalism pulls you in with its chattiness and modest posture—no science-fictional bombast weighs down these skilled narratives. The title piece introduces the author's screwed-up future; the narrator is the cowardly flunkey of a theme- park owner who's trying to interest investors in his dying enterprise. The rides and exhibits are in disrepair, attendance is low, and violent gangs assault the perimeter. A similarly frightened worker in "The Wavemaker Falters'' is haunted by images from the past—he's visited by the ghost of the boy he chopped up by accident in the wave-making machine at the water park where he works. Saunders's future world engenders strange, disgruntled workers, made more vicious by their need to survive a stark and ruthless marketplace. The overweight loser in "The 400-Pound CEO'' works for the insane owner of a raccoon removal company that promises a humanitarian treatment but kills the animals brutally. "Isabelle'' marks one of the few redemptive moments in this bleak collection: In a nightmarish city of blunt racial hatred and easy violence, the narrator discovers family with "Boneless,'' a crippled neighbor he eventually takes in. "Bounty,'' a novella, is Saunders's fullest portrait of the future; it begins in a postmodern freak show where "Flawed'' people work in historical re-creation shows for the rich "Normals.'' Eventually, the claw- footed narrator escapes, journeying cross-country to join the revolution. The politics of scarcity are brilliantly fictionalized in these smart and understated stories that are more Mad Max than 1984.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-44812-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1995

Categories:

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 29


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015


  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner


  • National Book Award Finalist

A LITTLE LIFE

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

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 29


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015


  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner


  • National Book Award Finalist

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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

Categories:

MAGIC HOUR

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Sisters work together to solve a child-abandonment case.

Ellie and Julia Cates have never been close. Julia is shy and brainy; Ellie gets by on charm and looks. Their differences must be tossed aside when a traumatized young girl wanders in from the forest into their hometown in Washington. The sisters’ professional skills are put to the test. Julia is a world-renowned child psychologist who has lost her edge. She is reeling from a case that went publicly sour. Though she was cleared of all wrongdoing, Julia’s name was tarnished, forcing her to shutter her Beverly Hills practice. Ellie Barton is the local police chief in Rain Valley, who’s never faced a tougher case. This is her chance to prove she is more than just a fading homecoming queen, but a scarcity of clues and a reluctant victim make locating the girl’s parents nearly impossible. Ellie places an SOS call to her sister; she needs an expert to rehabilitate this wild-child who has been living outside of civilization for years. Confronted with her professional demons, Julia once again has the opportunity to display her talents and salvage her reputation. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love, 2004, etc.) is at her best when writing from the girl’s perspective. The feral wolf-child keeps the reader interested long after the other, transparent characters have grown tiresome. Hannah’s torturously over-written romance passages are stale, but there are surprises in store as the sisters set about unearthing Alice’s past and creating a home for her.

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-46752-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

Categories:
Close Quickview