Harris (Chocolat, 1999) is capable of elegantly sensual writing, but Five Quarters degenerates into melodrama all too soon.

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FIVE QUARTERS OF THE ORANGE

An overwrought and often contrived tale with one too many characters named after food.

When elderly widow Françoise Simon returns to the sleepy village on the Loire where she grew up, she’s grateful that no one recognizes her after all these years as Framboise Dartigen, daughter of a woman suspected of collaboration during WWII. Framboise sets up a small crêperie and keeps her silence, whiling away the time by studying the immense scrapbook her mother, Mirabelle, left to her. This crumbling but fascinating volume is crammed with recipes, clippings, and handwritten notes in a peculiar code, which she gradually deciphers. Framboise is forced to relive her own central role in the long-ago scandal as the youngest of three children who eagerly take small luxuries like chocolate and silk stockings from the occupying German soldiers, offering in exchange information that can be used to blackmail the villagers. Framboise befriends Tomas Liebniz, youngest and best-looking of the soldiers, and confides her desire to catch Old Mother, an enormous pike lurking in the depths of the Loire. He provides fishing tackle and advice, as well as a means of getting around her disapproving mother. Mirabelle suffers from excruciatingly painful migraines, which can be triggered by the scent of oranges. Tomas gives one to the nasty little girl, who saves the peel and uses its pungent smell to repeatedly incapacitate her mother. Only morphine—now impossible to obtain—eases the pain, and despite her hatred for the Germans who shot and killed her husband, Mirabelle too turns to clever Tomas, who procures it for her. After his accidental death by drowning and a bloody shooting rampage by German soldiers, the Dartigens face the wrath of the townsfolk . . . .

Harris (Chocolat, 1999) is capable of elegantly sensual writing, but Five Quarters degenerates into melodrama all too soon.

Pub Date: May 3, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-019813-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2001

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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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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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