A remarkable tale of political maturity, and its steep price.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

In Flanders’ (An Interlude in Berlin, 2018, etc.) historical novel, an idealistic diplomat in the Kennedy administration becomes increasingly disillusioned by the government’s grim conduct of the Vietnam War.

Dillon Randolph was groomed to become “a member of the club, one of the young men on the rise, an Establishment favorite”; his family name is well known in American politics, and his father, John Custis Randolph, is currently a Democratic congressman. But Dillon is also a poet who’s published two collections of his work and has the soul of a romantic. In 1961, he takes a job at the State Department and joins a group of friends—they call themselves the “Group of Five”—all “moved by the young President’s stirring rhetoric and call for a new generation of leadership.” Dillon is specifically recruited to work for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research under the tutelage of its new “charismatic leader,” Roger Hilsman. It’s a position that gives him a privileged perch from which to see the unfolding of the war in Southeast Asia. When a fellow member of the Group of Five—Palmer Knox, a CIA agent—kills himself out of despair of his own involvement in the execution of the war, Dillon is faced with a grave moral crisis that challenges more than his politics. Flanders intelligently chronicles Dillon’s growing disenchantment, not only with the bloody, “grim pragmatism” that he encountered regarding the management of the war, but also the “fractures in the Great Society” to which he was so devoted after Kennedy’s assassination. Over the course of the novel, the author deftly portrays the tumultuous and complex political climate of the day, which simultaneously contained shimmering optimism about the future, dread of the dangers posed by the Cold War, and nihilistic espionage. The author closely hews to the historical record, but artfully weaves a poignant human element into it; both Dillon and Palmer are emotionally convincing as characters. Overall, this is a nuanced novel that offers a historically edifying account of a troubled time.

A remarkable tale of political maturity, and its steep price.

Pub Date: July 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9908675-5-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Munroe Hill Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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