Dunmore (With Your Crooked Heart, 2000, etc.) has a gift for telling her tale in the rhythm of war and suffering, but less...

THE SIEGE

A small knot of people fight to survive the Nazi siege of Leningrad in a book that feels more like history than it does like a novel.

In the summer of 1941, twenty-two-year-old Anna Levin is staying with her father, Mikhail, at his small dacha outside Leningrad, where Anna keeps watch over her five-year-old brother Kolya. Mikhail is a writer whose lack of political acuity has made him unpublishable; and this failure, along with the recent loss of his wife, has made him into a premature invalid. Anna doesn’t have much drive, either. She watches after the family, does some drawing, takes care of the garden, and, like everyone else, makes sure to voice politically correct enthusiasms for Comrade Stalin so that the men in black vans won’t show up in the middle of the night to take them away. Then, she hears the unbelievable news of a German assault on Russia, and the story begins its lockstep march from the tensions of peacetime to the horrors of war. Despite everyone’s protestations that the Fascists will never get anywhere near Leningrad, the nearer they come. Anna and her family move into the city so as not to be cut off. They are joined in their small apartment by Marina, an actress who fell from political grace years ago and was also a mistress of Mikhail’s; and Andrei, a young doctor who quickly falls for Anna. As the temperature drops, so does hope. The brutal winter makes an already-unbearable situation worse, and soon people are making soup out of bread and water and praying for an end to winter.

Dunmore (With Your Crooked Heart, 2000, etc.) has a gift for telling her tale in the rhythm of war and suffering, but less of one for releasing the springs of a novel. Still, mixing an easy lyricism with gruesome honesty, she shows us what life is like for civilians in war—praying for help, saving the last crust of bread.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8021-1700-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2001

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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