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Ramedio and the Strangers

MARTINA'S EXCHANGE

Well-crafted and honest.

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Menapace (Letting Go of Mama, 2011) crafts a coming-of-age story that builds slowly but unfolds profoundly.

With a carefully balanced mix of harsh earnestness and dry humor, Jasper Windsock Jr. tells the story of his lifelong friend and occasional rival, Ramedio Kunstler. The bulk of the drama, which develops over the course of the 20th century in Pennsylvania’s coal country, derives from bitter, generations-old feuds among the Italian immigrant families that populate the Valhalla area. Reputations and political alliances are of the utmost importance, but in his early days, these issues seem to be of no concern to Ramedio. After tragically witnessing his father’s suicide, Ramedio is raised by his mentally unstable mother, Ramona, and his intelligent, if heavy-handed, stepfather, Dr. Walter Kunstler. Ramedio develops a love for music at an early age and, in his teenage years, decides that he and his band, Ramedio and the Rangers, are destined for stardom. But before the Rangers can really take off, he gets 17-year-old Martina Cardinelli pregnant. Following the demands of his stepfather, Ramedio marries Martina and is instantly embraced by her family; he loves Martina and feels more loved by her family than his own. However, none of this can last in their spiteful, clan-based society. The Kunstlers and Cardinellis clash while Ramedio struggles to make enough money as a musician. In the ultimate tragedy, Martina falls completely out of love with Ramedio. As Ramedio tries in vain to regain the love of his wife, Windsock recalls all the heartbreaking details. The events that follow, with Ramedio fleeing the town and returning to his music, are rendered with a surrealistic style and an air of irreverence that serve as a welcome release from the tense preceding chapters. The novel’s first half unfolds at a slower pace, but that proves to be Menapace setting the stage for the extremely gratifying series of resolutions, and nonresolutions, that follow.

Well-crafted and honest.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-1475250695

Page Count: 298

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2013

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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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