GUARD OF HONOR

To anyone whose memory of James Gould Cozzens' earlier work is still green, it it welcome news that, after too long an interval, there is another book from him. Just as each of those books was sharply individual, so this one stands alone, on its own merits. He has done what, to most of us, would have seemed an impossible achievement. He has written an absorbing novel about a Florida Air Base; he has brought into sharp relief against the background of boredom and frustration and disappointment which most of the officers assigned there felt,-the little dramas of human lives, loves, hates, jealousies; the competitive spirit leveled at minor goals; the interrelation of men, whose ranks are more or less the accident of the chance of war. The C.O., General Beal, younger than most of his staff, is a vital figure, torn by his friendship for a difficult junior officer, eternally in hot water, disturbed profoundly by the necessity of playing off local prejudices re the color line against the directives from Washington, attempting to be human and at the same time the martinet military procedure demanded. The major issues motivate the story:- the problem of the Negro officers and the officers club; the disaster attendant on the trials of parachute jumping — and the question of blame. Nathaniel Hicks, in private life an important man in the magazine world, is the person through whom much of the story is seen —and his own private adventure with the WAC, Lieutenant Turck, bears evidence to the tensions, the conflicts, incidental to the artificialty of the life of civilians at war. Character after character comes clear- small bits as well as large. There's implicit in the whole the kind of drama Command Decision provided — against a setting that is infinitely less provocative of dramatic treatment. A long book- not always easy reading- with many subplots- with minor incident piled on minor incident- but the whole building up to an unforgettable pattern. Cozzens writes with a taut violence at times; and at other times with an expansive warmth — an unusual combination which makes for roundness of impression.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 1948

ISBN: 0156376091

Page Count: 631

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1948

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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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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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