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CROSSROADS FROM DAMASCUS

MISSISSIPPI HEADLIGHTS

An adequate collection of short stories and poetry, but the author’s commentary doesn't connect the parts into a cohesive...

A compilation of genre-spanning short works with behind-the-scenes style nonfictional interludes that chronicle an author’s struggle with drugs, debt and family.

This uniquely structured collection attempts to pull back the curtain on the writing process, using the author’s real-life accounts of working on the individual pieces while dealing with square jobs, family troubles, self-doubt and other demons. In Akley’s (Sweet Pea and the Bumblebee, 2007) world, the biggest monkey on his back is marijuana, along with all the hassles that come with the habit, and his dependency has lead him to as many interesting tales and inconveniences as his other obsession—writing—has. In between children’s stories, miniplays, poetry and prose come glimpses of the numerous hardships, locations and characters that have influenced these works, the collected accounts of a freelance lab technician just trying to make an honest living while publishing his stories and trying to score his next ounce. The book suggests a larger narrative will appear where fact meets fiction, but this ultimately fails, leaving the reader with disparate stories loosely connected by bits of memoir. The short pieces stand fine on their own— “Sweet Pea and the Bumblebee” and “The Candlestick,” both children’s tales, explore similar questions of identity but in different ways—while the bulk of novel’s poetry captures a muted sense of longing, even when just engaging in simple, fun observations. Of the prose, “Repentance” is the standout; replete with vivid imagery, it’s most notable for the subdued, nonjudgmental way it depicts personal interactions, featuring people struggling to make bad decisions that regrettably might be the best ones they can make. Themes like relevance, selfishness and self-interest reoccur throughout, even in the nonfiction passages, but like the book’s multiple religious musings and pop culture references, these feel like window dressings, adding little and rarely explored or expounded upon, just filling space, or in the case of the poems, metered time.

An adequate collection of short stories and poetry, but the author’s commentary doesn't connect the parts into a cohesive narrative.

Pub Date: April 18, 2011

ISBN: 978-1432773533

Page Count: 376

Publisher: Outskirts

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2012

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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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FIREFLY LANE

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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