THE RUM DIARY

The original Gonzo journalist (Proud Highway, 1997, etc.) spent a sober afternoon going through his archives to find this unpublished novel (his only fiction), written at the start of his career. He might as well have let it rest in peace. Thompson’s great achievement as a writer, of course, has been the role he played in the development of the “new journalism”of the1960s. Making the most of a vicious wit, sharp tongue, and riotous imagination, Thompson infused his reporting—most famously, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas—with a vigor and depth of personality usually associated more with novels than with newspapers, helping thereby to raise the literary status of nonfiction. It’s hardly a surprise, then, to learn that Thompson has had a novel locked away in a desk drawer all these years. What’s surprising is how much less compelling it is than his journalism. Paul Kemp, the narrator, is a young New Yorker starting out as a newspaperman in Puerto Rico in the late —50s. Soon after arriving in San Juan, he manages to land a job at the Daily News, an English- language rag whose staff—an assortment of has-beens, mad geniuses, drunks, and spongers—would seem more at home in the Foreign Legion. The legendary Thompson manner (“Arriving half-drunk in a foreign place is hard on the nerves”) is flourished here, all right, and the typical Thompson high jinks of public misbehavior and private lewdness make up most of the story, which is more portrait than tale. There are fights in bars and trouble with cops. There are crazy chicks from Smith who like to undress in public. There are writers who, though broke, always manage to get an assignment just before their landlady evicts them. And through the whole of it, there is one febrile intelligence noticing and reporting on everything that takes place both inside and outside of himself. A fun drive that takes you nowhere much. Thompson fans won—t be disappointed, of course, but most everyone else would be better off going to Henry Miller for that sort of thing.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 1998

ISBN: 0-684-85521-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1998

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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