POLITE SEX

For his fifth novel, Wilcox (Sort of Rich, 1989, etc.) leaves the everyday comedy of small-town Louisiana for more serious matters in New York City, where a few Tula Springs natives struggle with ambition and disappointment, and faith and disillusion. Wilcox plays with perspective in a narrative that jumps back and forth in time as he follows the lives of two Louisiana girls who come to the big city in the early 70's with seemingly opposite goals. The high-minded Emily Brix, whose parents are pretty low on the Tula Springs social ladder, wants to conquer the serious stage fresh from her years at Smith. Instead, she finds herself working as a ``glorified receptionist'' for a Times Square movie-production company, where she reads countless scripts that offend her lofty cultural standards. This petite, virginal, self-effacing blonde eventually marries Hugh Vanderbilt, a well-healed graduate student in theology at Union, whose practical proposal leads to an unromantic marriage. Meanwhile, Clara Tilman, a hometown beauty and friend of Emily's sister, decides to become a model to escape her abusive boyfriend back home, the studly F.X. Pickens (the future coke-head ex-con of Modern Baptists). With luck and newly acquired savvy, Clara exploits her southern belle act and earns modest fame as a TV actress while Emily's life spirals downward. Her acting career never takes off; her marriage falls apart; and she finds herself a dumpy 40-year-old living in cramped quarters and working at a test-preparation center. Things are never as clear as they seem here, and Wilcox's narrative style allows him to return to key events, exposing the passionate and messier truths of everyone's sexual behavior. Emily proves the most serious misrememberer- she's also a sexually repressed expert at denial who shares a dark secret with her alter-ego Clara. A surprisingly ordinary fiction from the otherwise gifted Wilcox, whose first venture outside Tula Springs drifts, with little humor to steer it straight.

Pub Date: June 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-06-016356-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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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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