AMERICAN EPITAPH

A grim 2025 comes to life in Laabs’s timely dystopian thriller.

Just over a decade into the future, the United States of America has succumbed to rule by a tiny, extremely wealthy fraction of the population. After winning the election in the fall of 2012, America’s elite turned their chosen politicians into little more than puppets. Elections are rigged, states are fractured, homosexuals are institutionalized and the vast nonelite is divided between government wage-slaves and unemployed squatters. Patrick, the book’s hero, ekes out a living growing vegetables in his backyard. When Jimmy, a hard-nosed Vietnam veteran, enlists Patrick in a mission to aid his small rebel faction, Patrick finds himself becoming a leader in the increasingly powerful rebellion. Laabs’s eerily plausible shadow-America is an engaging environment for any reader to explore (especially one who shares Laabs’s liberal politics). The plot tracks the rebellion’s progression from a ragtag band to an actual threat to the elite, and the story’s clever twists and turns are exciting throughout. There’s even a delightfully sadistic villain named Nefario, who is prone to bouts of melancholy and dreams of dictatorship and nuclear weapons. Most of the characters, though, are closer to two-dimensional caricatures than fully realized people. Early on, Patrick expresses ambivalence about killing his opponents, but as the book focuses more on the rebellion’s development, such examples of introspection and emotion fall by the wayside. Clunky exposition is a problem too; one 20something, who presumably lived through the country’s transformation herself, actually says to Jimmy: “How did things become the way they are now?” Similarly, the plot is unnaturally tidy: complicated missions routinely go off without a hitch and key characters come to exactly the right realizations at exactly the right times. But despite this book’s drawbacks, it boasts a propulsive plot, a creepy-cool setting and a sense of genuinely high stakes. Laabs offers an imaginative, well-oiled machine of a story, with just enough connection to current tensions to keep readers involved and anxious.

 

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0976759959

Page Count: 264

Publisher: First American

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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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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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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