Ruthlessly brilliant writing brings grace to a story smoldering in pain.

WAYS OF LEAVING

A standout novel about going home, where old girlfriends, awkward funerals, deeply buried parental secrets and naked, drunken, nocturnal escapades irritate a man like scabs of his squandered youth and misspent adulthood.

When Chase returns to his hometown in the Poconos, his father has just died, his wife has left him, he lost his job as a journalist, and his sister wastes away in a mental institution. He’s grappling with addictions to sex and alcohol as well as, closer to the surface, a problem with rage, most frequently expressed with dripping sarcasm. It’s that sarcasm that gives this bleak, sometimes violent book its surprising levity. “She didn’t hate us,” Chase’s brother, Aaron, says of their absentee mother. “Maybe you’re right,” Chase responds. “Maybe what I perceived as hatred was really just a sort of repulsed loathing.” Jarrett (More Towels, 2002) seamlessly combines dark comedy with real tragedy and pathos, a hat trick comparable to that of certain movies with similar themes—Zach Braff’s Garden State, for instance, or Diablo Cody’s Young Adult. Scenes such as Chase’s encounter with a disabled former classmate or his confrontation with his new lover’s jealous husband are masterfully done: simultaneously exciting, frightening, hilarious and sad. Even a sex scene feels both authentic and erotic, an achievement that becomes even more impressive when the rhythm and language of lovemaking are repeated—disturbingly but fittingly—during, of all things, a grave-digging scene. The bold audacity of Jarrett’s writing carries the novel through its minor flaws: A few too many women populate Chase’s life, and there’s a sameness to his initial encounters with them that might start to bore readers as much as it does him. Also, some of his misadventures, cleverly written as they are, seem to stand apart from the rest of the story, introducing compelling characters and situations that then drift away from the larger narrative. But Chase remains an enthralling, completely believable character, and readers who share his sensibilities will writhe and laugh in empathy as he seeks to retie his unraveling life.

Ruthlessly brilliant writing brings grace to a story smoldering in pain.

Pub Date: March 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-1940716411

Page Count: 375

Publisher: SparkPress

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 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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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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