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THE CRIMSON HEIRLOOMS

From the Crimson Heirlooms series , Vol. 1

A formidable, ambitious debut novel with the tantalizing promise of a follow-up.

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This historical novel offers a smorgasbord that includes Freemasonry, aborted revolutions, slavers, family dynasties, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the Enlightenment—while also telling a tale of a far-ranging treasure hunt.

The engine of the plot in Dennis’ tale is a search for the “crimson heirlooms”: the Cross of Nantes, an almost mystically stunning creation that makes its bearer “merchant royalty,” and a “less tangible” heirloom: “the words of the devil’s song, as he danced across the blood-drenched hills of the Vendée Militaire.” Whoever finds these heirlooms will inherit the holdings of the wealthy Traversier family and be rich as Croesus. There are several pivotal characters and forces in this densely packed novel that’s set in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and chief among them is Xavier Traversier, the heir to his family’s mercantile enterprise in the city of Nantes in western France. The business is in decline during his childhood, but by book’s end he will have taken the Traversier fortunes to incredible heights. Jake Loring is an American student in 1832 Paris and a budding revolutionary who’s forced by a man named Monsieur Tyran into searching for the heirlooms. By a circuitous route, the story arrives in 1783 Saint-Domingue (later known as Haiti), which brings in the Guerrier clan, including father Feroce, mother Seonaidh, and the children, Guillaume and Estelle; the kids, when grown up, figure in the story at crucial junctures. Freemasonry also undergirds the intellectual history of the era along with the ideas of philosophers Rousseau and Montesquieu. Revolution is in the air as the story alternates between different time periods. The end presents a semiconclusion to the action followed by the phrase “To Be Continued.” Dennis knows how to spin a yarn, although the reader may be forgiven for not keeping all the characters straight over 400-plus pages; indeed, an initial list of the various players might have been helpful. The intellectual discussions sometimes make things drag a bit unless one is already a keen student of political and intellectual history, but when Dennis is good, he’s very good—especially when it comes to description. The details of Traversier’s first voyage as captain of his slave ship are particularly horrifying. Likewise, the particulars of Jake’s frontline actions as a revolutionary and Guillaume’s earlier exploits, also as a revolutionary (Plus ça change…), are well-handled. One curious chapter, “Jérémie,” stands out as an eloquent testimony on the plight of the country peasants of the time; revolution should come as no surprise at all, even if it does start in the cities. Dennis has certainly immersed himself in the era of his novel, and he has clearly done his homework. The result is a book in which readers can certainly lose themselves, in the best sense of the term. And although it would be a long stretch to compare this novel to those of Leo Tolstoy or Victor Hugo, the flavor of their works is certainly present.

A formidable, ambitious debut novel with the tantalizing promise of a follow-up.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9994936-0-1

Page Count: 470

Publisher: A-R-B Books

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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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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THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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