An inventive combination of fresh storytelling and an adored classic.

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THE CURIOUS CASE OF MARY ANN

A housemaid—a minor character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—investigates the mystery of her father’s murder in this fantasy novel.

Among the fanciful events in Alice, the White Rabbit mistakes the title character at one point for Mary Ann, apparently his housemaid. In this imaginative take, Thorson (Tryfling Matters, 2015, etc.) tells a Wonderland story from Mary Ann’s point of view. Her fussy employer wants to give Queen Valentina the perfect Unbirthday present, so Mary Ann suggests that her father, Rowan Carpenter, a talented woodworker, could make one. She and Rowan aren’t close—he believes children should be both useful and far away—but she travels to collect the gift, a mirror with a carved frame. On arrival at her father’s house, she’s horrified to discover that someone in a red tunic is chopping off Rowan’s head. Mary Ann is determined to learn the truth and get justice for her father’s murder, so she finds incognito employment and starts investigating. She uncovers information about Rowan’s business partner, a walrus, and learns that the mirror is a magic portal. She also aids young Sir Rufus in slaying the Jabberwock (“Lots of people teach things about which they haven’t the slightest inkling”) and in searching for his lost sense of humor. Mary Ann will discover more than one shocking truth before she’s done, if she can hold onto her own head. Thorson has a brilliant idea in mixing the world of Alice with a murder mystery. The result is a demented but internally consistent detective story—the motive, means, and opportunity make sense. What’s more, although tackling a pastiche of a well-loved children’s book is a daunting task, Thorson succeeds beautifully. She deftly captures Carroll’s absurdity, wordplay, and unsettling strangeness and rings some changes of her own. Here’s Mary Ann getting housemaid instructions: “So start with the fireplaces. Then fluster the moldings, massage the brass, milk the jugs, tickle the ivory and when you’re quite done with that, report back and I’ll give you some real work to do.”

An inventive combination of fresh storytelling and an adored classic.

Pub Date: June 16, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9838045-8-1

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Waterhouse Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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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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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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