A lean crime story and a stark alternative to glossier capers.

HOW TO ROB AN ARMORED CAR

After boosting a TV, three blue-collar dropouts think they’re smart enough to try a far more dangerous heist.

Once again plumbing the depths of working-class desperation, Levison (Dog Eats Dog, 2008, etc.) strikes a more plaintive chord than ever. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of humor in his gruff caper, but he punctuates the laughs with just the right hint of sadness. Leading a motley crew of amateur criminals is Mitch Alden, manager at a fictional but very recognizable big box store here called Accu-mart. The only way to cope with the high stress and low pay is to self-medicate, but after shelling out $50 for a weed run, Mitch finds himself “wondering if dreading your job so much that you paid the last of your money to avoid working it with all your mental faculties intact might be an indicator that it was time to get a different one.” He recruits two buddies to supplement their beer bashes and drug habits by helping him fleece Accu-mart out of a television. Kevin is the family man who just can’t seem to get it right, operating a fly-by-night dog-walking service and balancing his role as a husband and father with the realities of being an ex-con. Doug is definitely the dimmest bulb of the three, a low-level dealer with negligible aspirations who also happens to be canoodling with Kevin’s wife. After their big score, Mitch gets ambitious. The gang experiences epic failure at Ferrari theft; gets into bed with a dirty doctor to push his illicitly obtained hoard of Oxycontin; and finally plans the big heist to earn millions for an afternoon’s work. There’s not much to like about any of the players, but it’s hard to dispute their logic when Mitch argues, “If money doesn’t buy happiness, why do guys guard it with guns?”

A lean crime story and a stark alternative to glossier capers.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-56947-599-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2009

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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