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MIND THE GAP

An effective novel of family and society from a writer with a flair for the offbeat.

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In Tombs’ (Robber Baron, 2007, etc.) historical novel, a Canadian author/filmmaker navigates disquieting family secrets, romance, politics, freelance journalism, and phantoms.

Richard Grey is born into an unusual Montreal family that lives near the St. Lawrence River. His mentally ill mother, Augusta, is sent to an asylum for several years, and the feckless and evasive family patriarch, Reginald, is often absent on railroad-connected business. As a result, Richard’s benevolent but domineering American grandmother, Blanche Grieve, from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, runs the household. Her fondness for cats causes the allergic Richard to spend several years wearing a gas mask in the house—cementing the youth’s outsider perspective (“I now saw the world through glass eyepieces, which tended to fog up”). Perhaps unsurprisingly, journalism and writing become the boy’s passions, and he has a rich fantasy life that, among other things, transforms Augusta into an imprisoned secret agent; there’s a subtle reference to Patrick McGoohan in the TV show The Prisoner. Richard also has an imaginary muse/lover named Luciola, a lab-created woman imbued with firefly DNA, which makes her sport wings and glow. After attending grim Dystopia High School, Richard works his way through college by freelancing, including for the BBC, and, by 1975, he’s reluctantly covering the Quebec separatist movement; one of its leaders, an unctuous press baron, is clearly inspired by Conrad Black, the subject of a previous nonfiction book by Tombs. The Canadian writer/filmmaker’s first novel is a seriocomic dysfunctional-family saga and magical-realist coming-of-age tale that will put some readers in mind of John Irving’s work—if Irving had a fondness for hockey. The well-drawn characterizations carry along a plotline that seems a bit too bumpy and meandering for its own good. Fortunately, the characters are sympathetic, vulnerable, and oddball enough to make the rocky journey worthwhile, and some of Tombs’ details—especially in his portrait of a shady book publisher—have an impressive realism. 

An effective novel of family and society from a writer with a flair for the offbeat.

Pub Date: March 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9993840-0-5

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Evidentia Originals

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A LITTLE LIFE

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

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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

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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

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