A short novel that might have served better as a short story.

THE DEATH OF SOC SMITH

The tide gets rough for an aging California surfer and war vet when he discovers his obituary in the local newspaper.

Socrates “Soc” Smith is your typical laidback California native, content with a simple lifestyle that includes thumbing through the newspaper in the morning, watching movies in the evening with his wife, Jayne, and cruising down to the nearby beaches in his ’48 Woody to scope out the waves on his days off. One Saturday morning he happens upon the local paper’s obituary page, which contains a pronouncement of his death. Assuming the listing is nothing more than an accident or a friend’s benign joke, he prepares to get to the bottom of things the following Monday morning. His plans are complicated when, that afternoon, Jayne receives his official death certificate in the mail. What Soc assumes to be a simple matter of clarifying facts with county officials and newspaper editors turns into a fruitless game of trying to convince people that he’s alive. To make matters worse, Soc’s purportedly abandoned job is already filled by a younger man, and Jayne receives a $50,000 life insurance check. Concluding that there’s little anyone can do to bring him back to life, Soc realizes he’s off the public grid and hits the surf all week to sort things out. Suddenly faced with the possibility of leaving his wife of 25 years in pursuit of the Kerouac-like escapades he’s always dreamed of, Soc must wrestle with the fact that “someone else made him dead.” But what starts out as an intriguing premise with lots of potential for metaphysical musings on life and death, or at least a modern-day male anti-adventure, becomes a droll scrutiny of a common man with humdrum aspirations. Soc is so averse to risk during the first two-thirds of this brief book that it’s difficult to care whether or not his quandary is amended. Arthur takes great pains to describe Soc’s every action in many sections, leaving much of the content feeling like filler material: “He changed the channel to a boxing match. He watched a round until a commercial came on. He jumped around the channels for a couple minutes and then he switched back to the fight. He watched that round, and then he turned the T.V. off.” Much of the story is otherwise conveyed through snappy dialogue and Soc’s turbulent reflections, which some readers will find a redemptive quality, particularly as Soc makes his final decisions.

A short novel that might have served better as a short story.

Pub Date: April 21, 2011

ISBN: 978-0984299065

Page Count: 131

Publisher: Jerome Arthur

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2012

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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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