Though the developing writer has considerable stylistic flair, the novel mixes slam dunks with air balls.

MVP

This scattershot debut novel about scandal in professional basketball shows flashes of virtuosity, though some of the writing clangs off the rim.

There’s a jittery brilliance to the book’s prologue, in which the Kobe Bryant rape case is used as a launching pad for fiction that draws plenty of inspiration from recent years’ headlines. It begins in staccato rhythm, relating and repeating the facts of a case in which a famous basketball player checks into a hotel, meets a girl whom he believes is there to service him, leaves her dead and flees. In the mind of Gilbert Marcus, a renowned athlete since high school, what he has committed is neither rape nor murder, though the society that has let him coast through a life of limitless privilege isn’t about to let him slide on this one. The rest of the novel can’t sustain that opening momentum, as it details the backstory that has brought Gilbert to this critical juncture. His father is a former pro-basketball journeyman who never fulfilled his potential and who drills Gilbert to become the star that Mervin Marcus could never be. When Gilbert finishes high school, he jumps to the pros as a can’t-miss prospect (giving the novel a slightly dated feel, since the league no longer allows this). Though Gilbert isn’t Kobe (there are traces of Tiger Woods and LeBron James mixed in), other characters are barely disguised stand-ins for Shaq and Michael Jordan, while one seems like a bad-boy amalgam of Allen Iverson, Dennis Rodman and Ron Artest. The lives of most of these professional basketball players are as seamy as their public images are polished. While Gilbert is extraordinarily precocious as an athlete, he has barely progressed beyond puberty in his relationships with his teammates and his sexual relations, which he finds unsatisfying and his partners find weird.

Though the developing writer has considerable stylistic flair, the novel mixes slam dunks with air balls.

Pub Date: May 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-7432-9299-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2007

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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