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

MIND THE GAP

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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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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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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