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RICK'S PLACE

Not nearly as romantic as its Casablanca namesake, Akley’s eponymous St. Louis dive bar is a sousing place for poignant...

The lives of three barflies intertwine in Akley’s (Crossroads from Damascus, 2011, etc.) latest novel.

Not nearly as romantic as its Casablanca namesake, Akley’s eponymous St. Louis dive bar is a sousing place for poignant losers with vague, purposeless anecdotes to tell. Among the regulars are Angela, a bartender whose heart was broken by her lover’s suicide; Jim, a man who suffered brain damage when he crashed his car after a girlfriend slipped him a dose of Percocet; and Sam, a struggling writer whose troubled life—marital problems, suicide attempts—forms the central thread in a tangle of intersecting character sketches. Framed by a bar-back mirror that comments on the people reflected in it, the storyline drifts among the interchangeable first-person broodings of the characters, gradually filling in details of their lives and snagging occasionally on desultory conversations and japes. Sprinkled in are some of Sam’s writings, including lyric poems—“bird flower come home! / and rest inside the holes / of my wood”—and a children’s story, as well as a random news article about homelessness in post-Katrina New Orleans. It’s hard to tell what is happening to whom in this braided, rambling picaresque, but that hardly matters since the uninvolving narrative mainly serves as a peg on which to hang hazy, abstract reflections on the meaning of life, a single paragraph of which can go on for 16 pages. Akley has a good feel for bar-room atmospherics and dialogue, but, unfortunately, the unfocused booziness spills over into his authorial voice. His stammering, sentimental pensées—“What you do doesn’t matter, and your reaction to this becomes either one of hope or despair, hope or despair in what happens after, after your life and what you’ve done with it”—go on endlessly; reading them feels like being trapped with a long-winded tavern philosopher.

Pub Date: April 28, 2011

ISBN: 978-1432774080

Page Count: 364

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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