Intelligent, challenging and exciting.

THE KEEP

Two cousins linked by a shameful secret, a convicted murderer and a reformed meth freak are unlikely co-conspirators in this adventurous new novel by Egan (Look at Me, 2001, etc.).

Aging party boy Danny is uneasy at the castle recently purchased by his cousin Howie in a remote area of central Europe. True, a “misunderstanding” with some very tough customers made it imperative to get out of New York City, and his cousin sent him a ticket. But has Howie really forgiven Danny for abandoning him in an underground cave when they were teenagers, a trauma that led him to drugs and crime? Well, maybe, since Howie eventually became a bond trader rich enough to retire at 34 and dream of turning the castle into a unique kind of hotel. “Let people be tourists of their own imaginations,” he says, explaining that the castle will be free of all electronic distractions. Danny, who panics without his cell phone and Internet connection, is incredulous; when Howie says, “Imagination! It saved my life,” his guilty cousin is sure he’s making reference to that fateful day in the cave. No sooner are we immersed in this intriguing setup than the author pulls back to reveal that it’s the creation of Ray, who’s taking a writing course to kill time in jail. This storytelling strategy is hard to pull off, since one tale is almost always more interesting than the other, but Egan’s characterizations and plotting are so strong that we’re eager to find out where both sets of protagonists are heading even before it becomes clear that Ray is describing something that actually happened to him. As the focus shifts once again, this time to Ray’s teacher Holly, all the narrative strands come together to underscore the theme Egan movingly delineates throughout: the power of art to transform even the most twisted and hopeless lives. There are a few slow spots, and the beautiful prose doesn’t entirely disguise how wildly improbable the novel’s events are, but the characters’ emotions are so real, the author’s insights so moving, that readers will be happy to be swept away.

Intelligent, challenging and exciting.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2006

ISBN: 1-4000-4392-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2006

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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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