Morrow’s latest (he’s perhaps best known for The Godhead Trilogy) is commendably ambitious, but this intensely cerebral...

THE LAST WITCHFINDER

Dominating this wide-ranging historical adventure novel is the campaign by one woman to end witch hunts in England and its North American colonies.

Clever little Jennet Stearne. While her father Walter, self-appointed Witchfinder-General, is away on the warpath in eastern England in 1688, the 11-year-old is absorbing Newtonian science from her scholarly Aunt Isobel. When Walter, acting on a complaint, targets Isobel herself, gutsy Jennet travels to Cambridge to enlist Isaac Newton’s help. Everything goes wrong, first comically, then horribly, for Isobel is burned at the stake, but not before enjoining Jennet to publish a work that will demolish the medieval text (Malleus Maleficarum) that empowered witchfinders and presaged the 1604 Parliamentary Witchcraft Act. Walter has overreached by targeting Isobel, a woman of property, and is exiled to the colonies, along with Jennet and her younger brother Dunstan. Massachusetts is fertile ground for witchfinders; the notorious Salem trials are starting and Dunstan will eventually marry Abigail Williams, that hysterical young accuser. Before Jennet can flee her appalling father and brother, she is abducted by Indians. There follows a pleasantly pastoral time-out before she is rescued by a mailman on horseback. Their consequent marriage fails when their child almost drowns (Jennet was engrossed in Newton). The rollercoaster continues. In Philadelphia, she meets Benjamin Franklin; they become lovers, despite their considerable age difference. They travel to London and meet Newton. Returning home, they are shipwrecked on a Caribbean island. It is here that Nature prompts Jennet’s epiphany, her “demon disproof”; her influential treatise is published by Franklin. Fortune’s wheel turns some more (Jennet engineers her own trial as a witch, big mistake) before witchfinding runs its course and that dreadful statute is repealed.

Morrow’s latest (he’s perhaps best known for The Godhead Trilogy) is commendably ambitious, but this intensely cerebral extravaganza doesn’t really work; Jennet is more a talking head than a fully formed character, and Morrow’s prose, cobwebbed with archaisms, is no help.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-082179-5

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2005

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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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