An intelligent but fictionally unspectacular drama.

CHANTING THE FEMININE DOWN

A female Christian-theology student struggles in a male-dominated religious landscape in McCullagh’s (USS Bunker Kills, 2014, etc.) novel. 

Bronx graduate student Colette McGovern decides to write her senior theology thesis on the Council of Trent, a historically important but bewilderingly complex council that the Catholic Church staged in the mid-16th century, responding to Protestant calls for reform. She seems ambivalent about her spirituality; she wishes she could tell her mother—a devout Catholic who’s peculiarly enthusiastic about ecclesiastical Latin—that she no longer wishes to attend weekly mass, as Simone de Beauvoir once defiantly told hers. Then Colette has an emotionally arresting dream in which Pope Paul II sinks mysteriously into the earth, wearing “soft robes” that feel “gentle and feminine” to her; it’s an experience so haunting that she seeks interpretive assistance from the campus counselor. Colette tries to find a way to understand the Council of Trent, and Catholicism at large, as being hospitable to feminine life, but she consistently encounters sexism: “The Church seems to have spent the last two thousand years shoring up a male hierarchy. So much time was spent arguing over the Immaculate Conception and all the rest that seems like myth and nonsense to eternally define the female.” Her dreams become more erotically charged, and her study of Trent more personal, as she begins to find spiritual inspiration in Giovanni Boccaccio’s 1374 biographical collection Famous Women. Throughout this novel, McCullagh displays impressive erudition, confidently traversing a broad swath of intellectual history with aplomb. He also palpably depicts Colette’s spiritual turmoil, sensitively portraying it in the context of the death of her father and in her emotional struggle with a past abortion. In addition, the author puts forward provocative questions about the place of women in Catholicism. However, the prose style can be overwrought and overly academic at times. As suggested by the subtitle—A Psychological, Religious, and Historical Novel—the work seems to be driven more by the need to conduct a philosophical inquiry than to craft a dramatic plot. 

An intelligent but fictionally unspectacular drama.

Pub Date: May 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-979059-90-9

Page Count: 248

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2018

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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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Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.

ALMOST JUST FRIENDS

Piper Manning is determined to sell her family’s property so she can leave her hometown behind, but when her siblings come back with life-changing secrets and her sexy neighbor begins to feel like “The One,” she might have to redo her to-do list.

As children, Piper and her younger siblings, Gavin and Winnie, were sent to live with their grandparents in Wildstone, California, from the Congo after one of Gavin’s friends was killed. Their parents were supposed to meet them later but never made it. Piper wound up being more of a parent than her grandparents, though: “In the end, Piper had done all the raising. It’d taken forever, but now, finally, her brother and sister were off living their own lives.” Piper, the queen of the bullet journal, plans to fix up the family’s lakeside property her grandparents left the three siblings when they died. Selling it will enable her to study to be a physician’s assistant as she’s always wanted. However, just as the goal seems in sight, Gavin and Winnie come home, ostensibly for Piper’s 30th birthday, and then never leave. Turns out, Piper’s brother and sister have recently managed to get into a couple buckets of trouble, and they need some time to reevaluate their options. They aren’t willing to share their problems with Piper, though they’ve been completely open with each other. And Winnie, who’s pregnant, has been very open with Piper’s neighbor Emmitt Reid and his visiting son, Camden, since the baby’s father is Cam’s younger brother, Rowan, who died a few months earlier in a car accident. Everyone has issues to navigate, made more complicated by Gavin and Winnie’s swearing Cam to secrecy just as he and Piper try—and fail—to ignore their attraction to each other. Shalvis keeps the physical and emotional tension high, though the siblings’ refusal to share with Piper becomes tedious and starts to feel childish.

Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296139-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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