Simple and unpretentious in its portrayal of small-town life.

THE WINTER BEES

Short stories explore the lives and relationships of residents of a small Minnesota town.

In 10 linked stories, seemingly simple daily interactions reach their tipping points for a wide array of characters. Stories about Ana the bartender bookend the collection, opening with her efforts to connect with patrons of her saloon despite their inconsistent presence (“Last Call”) and ending with her injured and alone in her apartment, recalling the slow loss of her brother to depression after his return from World War II and how she came to spend over 60 years working at her family’s bar (“Ana’s End”). Quiet struggles and solitude continue as themes for other characters, such as Luther, a retired teacher who, despite his budding relationship with a town librarian, is unable to move on from the long-ago death of his first love (“A Yin-Yang Year”); Shirley, the bookshop owner who lashes out at a customer in a moment of grief for her husband (“The Humming Bee”); and Eleanor, who tries to gracefully endure her sister’s funeral as mourners recall how Greta became known as “The Pee Lady” because of her public incontinence (“The Siebenbrunner Nose”). With her direct prose, author Kalz, in her first book for adults, has created a muted kaleidoscope of rural life, though the connections between stories are at times thin or slow to develop. The dialogue is sometimes hindered by wording that feels overly caricatured (“ 'Hot dog,' she said, 'it’s too cold even for the snowmen!' ”), which makes moments of reflection stand out even more: “By the time Luther came home from Marjorie’s, the rooms turned cold and close. He found himself breathing in shallow, quiet breaths, as though there wasn’t enough air left in the apartment by sundown, as though taking a deep breath might suck the walls in even farther.” Still, Kalz captures the tenacity, devotion to labor, and will to endure associated with the rural Midwest.

Simple and unpretentious in its portrayal of small-town life.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-7322082-0-9

Page Count: 187

Publisher: Minneopa Valley Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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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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