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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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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