There is something so refreshing and genuine about this book, coming partly from the bumpy weave of its unpredictable story...

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IMPROVEMENT

Love and profit, fear and orneriness, intention and accident…all present and accounted for in this study of why our lives turn out the way they do.

“Everyone knows this can happen. People travel and they find places they like so much they think they’ve risen to their best selves just by being there.” So begins this kaleidoscopic story cycle, stretching from 1970 to the present, from Rikers Island and Richmond, Virginia, to Sultanahmet, Turkey, and Berlin. With a group of characters woven together by a butterfly-effect chain of decisions, accidents, and consequences, Silber (Fools, 2013, etc.) examines the dynamics of relationships across races and cultures, the ramifications of smuggling both American cigarettes and European antiquities, the need to find and honor family, and the intentions to sell a Turkish rug, to start one’s own eyebrow-grooming business, to somehow make right things that have gone very wrong. Practically every page contains some insight you want to linger over. For example, a truck driver who has just been in a very bad wreck considers his past brushes with death: “Once when he took a beautiful drunken walk across a frozen pond and midway the ice cracked and broke. Once when he was in a car with a woman who drove them off the road into a gully. Once when he was in a fight with a guy who was crazier than he seemed. He’d had a good time when he was young, but in certain respects youth was overrated.” Or, a young single mother considering her boyfriend’s release from Rikers: “Jail doesn’t always change people in good ways, but in Boyd’s case it made him quieter and less apt to throw his weight around.”

There is something so refreshing and genuine about this book, coming partly from the bumpy weave of its unpredictable story and partly from its sharply turned yet refreshingly unmannered prose. A winner.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61902-960-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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