THE IMPORTANCE OF HIGH PLACES

STORIES AND A NOVELLA

Fascinating tales of spiritual transcendence in generally humble surroundings—in this first story collection (and one novella) by a Polish-American children's author. Eccentric composer Deiter Jahnke, hunkered down in his Catskill home, has prepared himself for the dreaded deer-hunting season's opening day with ``No Hunting'' signs, loud music to frighten the deer out of harm's way, and neon-orange clothing to protect his own hide. But actual death—a hunter's accidental shooting of his young son and subsequentsuicide—shocks Deiter into an entirely different realm, and, in fact, in ``Opening Day,'' enables him to compose the great work he had nearly given up. Similar transcendent moments occur in ``Dinosaurs,'' (a depressed and aging man finds spiritual relief in a neglected theme park); in ``The Importance of High Places In a Flat Town,'' (a young quarry- worker struggles to believe he'll someday escape the confines of circumstance); and in ``Kahuna,'' the thoughtful, accomplished novella (a guilt-ridden Catholic priest revisits the site in Hawaii where an old adversary died—and takes the reader along on a captivating spiritual journey). Higgins's concerns center on issues of guilt and absolution, spiritual release, confrontation with one's own mortality, and the deeper meaning behind life's ordinary gestures. She renders the experiences of her characters—many of them old, often Polish, and usually Catholic—with a refreshingly masterful hand. A memorable experience, and a writer to watch.

Pub Date: March 8, 1993

ISBN: 0-915943-79-4

Page Count: 165

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1993

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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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