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PLAIN AND NORMAL

Unrequited and misdirected loves are the ruefully comic matter of this sprightly seventh novel from the author of such inspired farces as Modern Baptists (1983) and Sort of Rich (1989). As often before, it’s a denizen of Wilcox’s likably deranged fictional hamlet of Tula Springs, Louisiana, who holds center stage. He’s 40ish (Severinus) Lloyd Norris, now a New Yorker, working as a computer programmer for a company that manufactures labels for “personal care products.” That’s only a minor eccentricity in a narrative merrily aboil with them. You see, Lloyd, who’s recently divorced from his old schoolmate Pearl Fay (whom he married when a football player made her pregnant), has realized he’s gay. This is of no great consequence to his ex (who urges him to find a boyfriend), Lloyd’s macho boss, his aggressively motherly secretary, and the dozen or so others brought together by Lloyd’s volunteer work for “Manhattan Cares” and his timid gropings toward a sex life (“all he did in the privacy of his bedroom was eat Fritos and sleep”). Lloyd is a charmingly winsome character, but his distant acquaintances (such as a depressed widower and his estranged octogenarian roommate), whose stories Wilcox pursues in skimpy counterpoint-narratives, never really hold our interest. The novel works best as a collection of riffs on sexual insanity (while permitting a female —airhead” model to share his apartment, Lloyd must deal with ugly rumors alleging he’s not gay), with some delicious incidental comedy (e.g., Pearl Fay botches a suicide attempt by swallowing a handful of vitamin C tablets). Wilcox ends it all with a series of pairings and reconciliations that do tie up loose ends, but also have the surely unintended effect of emphasizing his story’s narrative unevenness and chaotic structure. Almost as much of a mess as Lloyd Norris’s modestly frenetic pursuit of happiness and normality. Fortunately, it’s also very often almost as endearing and entertaining.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 1998

ISBN: 0-316-94026-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1998

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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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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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