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LOVE & ORDINARY CREATURES

Worse, the cliché-ridden novel sends uncomfortable cues: Are readers really supposed to blame Clarissa’s younger brother for...

A self-consciously erudite cockatoo narrates this avian-human romance from Rubio (The Woodsman’s Daughter, 2005, etc.).

In 1993, cockatoo Caruso lives on Ocracoke Island on North Carolina’s Outer Banks with Clarissa, a redheaded chef who whips up ambitious culinary delicacies while declaring her own favorite foods remain her beloved late grandmother's traditional Southern dishes. (Health-conscious readers may cringe at a chef who never seems to wash her hands and lets her bird loose in the kitchen.) Caruso became a domestic pet after he was kidnapped from his bird family in Australia years earlier. One smart cockatoo, Caruso is given to ruminating on man’s narcissistic self-importance, following the teachings of the “Great Mother” and quoting Emily Dickinson. That appreciation of poetry came from Caruso’s first owner, Theodore. A saintly romantic, Theodore retired from his career as headmaster of a boys school to move next door to the woman he’d silently loved since childhood despite her long marriage to a rich bully. Before entering a nursing home, Theodore introduced Caruso to concepts of love the bird carries with him as he faces a similar romantic crisis of his own. Caruso is in love with the giggly, annoyingly sweet Clarissa and basks in her attentive affection. Then Clarissa meets Joe, who has come to surf on Ocracoke while on summer break from studying environmental law. Clarissa's past boyfriends didn't threaten Caruso, but she seems serious about Joe. Plucking out his feathers in avian distress, Caruso begins plotting to win Clarissa back. Unfortunately, the cockatoo companion Clarissa finds to mollify Caruso only annoys him before fatally diving headlong into a pot of pasta sauce after a tantalizing feather Caruso has purposely dropped—a moment of unintentional comic relief in the slog through whimsy and New Age–y environmentalism.

Worse, the cliché-ridden novel sends uncomfortable cues: Are readers really supposed to blame Clarissa’s younger brother for being emotionally troubled or dislike her sous chef because he’s effeminate?

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61822-031-8

Page Count: 306

Publisher: Ashland Creek Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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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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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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