A brooding family saga with emotional depth.

UNOPENED LETTERS FROM DEAD MEN

Regan tells the story of three men attempting to move beyond the death of their family’s matriarch in this debut novel.

In the Midwestern town of Richland around 1968, high school basketball star Billy Hennessey hasn’t recovered since his mother, Janet, died in a car accident nearly a year ago. He finds it harder to relate to his friends, and he recently lost his girlfriend. He isn’t the only one reeling; the loss has made his overbearing father, Big Al, angrier and more prone to violence: “Her voice, sometimes the only reasonable one in the house, was gone.” Big Al blames his other son, Al Jr., for her death, as she was on the way to pick him up in the car. Al Jr. was sent to Vietnam not long afterward and returned with a severe injury. He’s been avoiding his father and brother ever since, suffering from PTSD and feeling unsure about his place in the world. Despite their conflicts, the men still wish to remain a family, although they’ll have to find a way to communicate with one another without Janet’s mediation. If they can understand one another’s pasts—and survive the dangers of the present—they might be able to build a real future. Regan’s detailed prose, which shifts its perspective between the three Hennessey men, strikes a deliberative tone throughout the novel: “Music blared out from an outside speaker he couldn’t remember being there before, a lively song about a brown-eyed girl that reminded him of Janet, overwhelming him until he was momentarily oblivious to everything.” The narrative moves at a slow pace, but as it does, it effectively delves into the psyches of all three of its major characters, exposing problems that go much deeper than the loss of a wife or mother—including problems of the world at large. The result is a novel that captures not only the fractures of family relationships, but also those of a small community caught at a key moment of cultural transformation.

A brooding family saga with emotional depth.

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-945630-83-5

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Creators Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2019

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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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Above-average formula fiction, making full display of the author’s strong suits: sense of place, compassion for characters...

TRUE COLORS

Female rivalry is again the main preoccupation of Hannah’s latest Pacific Northwest sob saga (Firefly Lane, 2008, etc.).

At Water’s Edge, the family seat overlooking Hood Canal, Vivi Ann, youngest and prettiest of the Grey sisters and a champion horsewoman, has persuaded embittered patriarch Henry to turn the tumbledown ranch into a Western-style equestrian arena. Eldest sister Winona, a respected lawyer in the nearby village of Oyster Shores, hires taciturn ranch hand Dallas Raintree, a half-Native American. Middle sister Aurora, stay-at-home mother of twins, languishes in a dull marriage. Winona, overweight since adolescence, envies Vivi, whose looks get her everything she wants, especially men. Indeed, Winona’s childhood crush Luke recently proposed to Vivi. Despite Aurora’s urging (her principal role is as sisterly referee), Winona won’t tell Vivi she loves Luke. Yearning for Dallas, Vivi stands up Luke to fall into bed with the enigmatic, tattooed cowboy. Winona snitches to Luke: engagement off. Vivi marries Dallas over Henry’s objections. The love-match triumphs, and Dallas, though scarred by child abuse, is an exemplary father to son Noah. One Christmas Eve, the town floozy is raped and murdered. An eyewitness and forensic evidence incriminate Dallas. Winona refuses to represent him, consigning him to the inept services of a public defender. After a guilty verdict, he’s sentenced to life without parole. A decade later, Winona has reached an uneasy truce with Vivi, who’s still pining for Dallas. Noah is a sullen teen, Aurora a brittle but resigned divorcée. Noah learns about the Seattle Innocence Project. Could modern DNA testing methods exonerate Dallas? Will Aunt Winona redeem herself by reopening the case? The outcome, while predictable, is achieved with more suspense and less sentimental histrionics than usual for Hannah.

Above-average formula fiction, making full display of the author’s strong suits: sense of place, compassion for characters and understanding of family dynamics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-36410-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2008

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