Ramedio and the Strangers

MARTINA'S EXCHANGE

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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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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