I LIKE IT BETTER NOW

Fifteen stories from Hall (Music from a Broken Piano, 1983, etc.)—gritty, hard-luck pieces about disappointment told in a variety of voices. The title story is told by a woman who left her low-rent husband and Oregon to settle in L.A., where she works at an auto- parts store (``I usually worked anything that was white and tattooed'') with black co-worker Asa. The story manages to include biographical sketches with a plot concerning the disappearance of parts from the store and, eventually, the destruction of the place in a suspicious fire. The narrator not only survives, however, but finds a better job and moves up in the world. ``But Who Gets the Children?'' has an ending that is less upbeat. Here, an alcoholic salesman with a wife who is obsessed with remodeling their split- level erupts one evening, in his wife's absence, and trashes the carefully remodeled house. Likewise—in another look at the dark side of the American dream—``The Rock Pool'' is about a reckless girl who steals her brother's car, rents a cottage at a rural motel, and proceeds to shack up with a backpacker before disappearing and just as suddenly showing up dead, floating in the motel's rock pool. The story's vitality emerges as the motel's proprietor and his wife try to reconstruct the girl's history from what little they know and from what the proprietor imagines. ``The Lettuce Wars,'' told by an illegal alien, is about a pilot who crashes while flying too low over the wrong field—it's a quirky vision, unlike ``Beirut,'' which is merely dramatized TV news, and ``A Rumor of Metal,'' which uses sf elements to obfuscate rather than clarify. Despite some implausibilities and flat spots: a jazzy aria redolent of life in contemporary America.

Pub Date: April 1, 1992

ISBN: 1-55728-233-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1992

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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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Laymon moves us dazzlingly (and sometimes bewilderingly) from 1964 to 1985 to 2013 and incorporates themes of prejudice,...

LONG DIVISION

A novel within a novel—hilarious, moving and occasionally dizzying.

Citoyen “City” Coldson is a 14-year-old wunderkind when it comes to crafting sentences. In fact, his only rival is his classmate LaVander Peeler. Although the two don’t get along, they’ve qualified to appear on the national finals of the contest "Can You Use That Word in a Sentence," and each is determined to win. Unfortunately, on the nationally televised show, City is given the word “niggardly” and, to say the least, does not provide a “correct, appropriate or dynamic usage” of the word as the rules require. LaVander similarly blows his chance with the word “chitterlings,” so both are humiliated, City the more so since his appearance is available to all on YouTube. This leads to a confrontation with his grandmother, alas for City, “the greatest whupper in the history of Mississippi whuppings.” Meanwhile, the principal at City’s school has given him a book entitled Long Division. When City begins to read this, he discovers that the main character is named City Coldson, and he’s in love with a Shalaya Crump...but this is in 1985, and the contest finals occurred in 2013. (Laymon is nothing if not contemporary.) A girl named Baize Shephard also appears in the novel City is reading, though in 2013, she has mysteriously disappeared a few weeks before City’s humiliation. Laymon cleverly interweaves his narrative threads and connects characters in surprising and seemingly impossible ways.

Laymon moves us dazzlingly (and sometimes bewilderingly) from 1964 to 1985 to 2013 and incorporates themes of prejudice, confusion and love rooted in an emphatically post-Katrina world.

Pub Date: June 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-932841-72-5

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Bolden/Agate

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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