A grimly effective entertainment, at once broad as a saber and pointed as a pike.


Kafka is brought up to date for the age of Brexit and Trump.

Never mind that in his Lectures on Literature Vladimir Nabokov protested that “he approaches a cockroach in only one respect: his coloration is brown”: Gregor Samsa, or, that is, Jim Sams, emphatically starts life as a cockroach in McEwan’s (MachinesLike Me, 2019, etc.) reimagining of The Metamorphosis. Then he awakens to discover that he has just four limbs as well as, revoltingly, that “an organ, a slab of slippery meat, lay squat and wet in his mouth.” That unwonted tongue will come in handy, but for the moment Jim has other things to attend to, for he’s not just a human, but also the prime minister of the United Kingdom. Instead of leaving the European Union, he has another item on his agenda: He’s backing a weird economic notion called reverse-flow economics, or Reversalism, whereby "the money flow [will] be reversed....At the end of a working week, an employee hands over money to the company for all the hours she has toiled. But when she goes to the shops, she is generously compensated...for every item she carries away.” It’s easy to get the American president, a fan of “fleet-footed liberation from detail,” to sign on to immiserate the taxpayers once Jim explains that he can take all the money slated for the Pentagon and make it flow up the chain into his own pocket, with the magical result that “seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars would be his.” Why bother small-scale looting when there’s so much pelf to be had? Of course, Jim twigs, the American president is on board only because he was once a cockroach himself, as were the rest of the world’s ruling and governing class, who flourish wherever people tolerate “poverty, filth, squalor” and choose to live in darkness. McEwan sweeps wide but hits home, Nabokov aside: He does a pitch-perfect Trump, pegs Angela Merkel’s bewilderment that her former allies are “inflicting these demands on your best friends,” and highlights the venality of the Leave crowd in Britain today.

A grimly effective entertainment, at once broad as a saber and pointed as a pike.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-593-08242-3

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Anchor

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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The years pass by at a fast and steamy clip in Blume’s latest adult novel (Wifey, not reviewed; Smart Women, 1984) as two friends find loyalties and affections tested as they grow into young women. In sixth grade, when Victoria Weaver is asked by new girl Caitlin Somers to spend the summer with her on Martha’s Vineyard, her life changes forever. Victoria, or more commonly Vix, lives in a small house; her brother has muscular dystrophy; her mother is unhappy, and money is scarce. Caitlin, on the other hand, lives part of the year with her wealthy mother Phoebe, who’s just moved to Albuquerque, and summers with her father Lamb, equally affluent, on the Vineyard. The story of how this casual invitation turns the two girls into what they call "Summer sisters" is prefaced with a prologue in which Vix is asked by Caitlin to be her matron of honor. The years in between are related in brief segments by numerous characters, but mostly by Vix. Caitlin, determined never to be ordinary, is always testing the limits, and in adolescence falls hard for Von, an older construction worker, while Vix falls for his friend Bru. Blume knows the way kids and teens speak, but her two female leads are less credible as they reach adulthood. After high school, Caitlin travels the world and can’t understand why Vix, by now at Harvard on a scholarship and determined to have a better life than her mother has had, won’t drop out and join her. Though the wedding briefly revives Vix’s old feelings for Bru, whom Caitlin is marrying, Vix is soon in love with Gus, another old summer friend, and a more compatible match. But Caitlin, whose own demons have been hinted at, will not be so lucky. The dark and light sides of friendship breathlessly explored in a novel best saved for summer beachside reading.

Pub Date: May 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32405-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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