DARKNESS AND A LITTLE LIGHT

Short, allegorical, and deceptively simple stories that make use of the author's experiences as a displaced person. Bobrowski (Shadow Lands: Selected Poems, not reviewed) has a mixed Lithuanian, Prussian, Polish, and German heritage; part Jewish yet devoted to the Lutheran church, he was a Russian POW during WW II. It's impossible to read these tales (often only two or three pages long) without keeping the writer's heritage in mind. Because so little was familiar when Bobrowski returned to his devastated homeland in 1949, he seems to have set about imagining what took place in his absence. ``I have begun another life,'' states the nameless narrator of ``That Was Really The End,'' with a hint of regret but in no uncertain terms. In the title story, men sitting in a bar speak of friends attempting to regain lost objects or positions: ``Supposed to mean something but it's just plain ridiculous.'' This is the point of view from which each tale begins, but in Bobrowski's hands the ridiculous is twisted, turned, and shoved into grave meaning. He focuses not on catastrophes, but on private moments. Ordinary people, often through no fault of their own, find their lives excessively burdened. In ``Mouse Feast,'' a Jewish shopkeeper throwing a crust of bread to the mice is suddenly confronted by a German soldier. In ``Interior'' three people in a room have but a few meaningless words for each other, while an elaborately described grandfather clock becomes a ticking bomb. Two longer stories (``Darkness and a Little Light'' and ``Boehlendorff'') use the cryptic style that works so well for the shorter pieces to lesser effect: Darting back and forth in time—here a name change, there a shift in occupation—they are guaranteed to send readers flipping back through the pages, trying to remember who was who. Good things come in small packages.

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 1994

ISBN: 0-8112-1259-9

Page Count: 112

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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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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Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s...

HOME FRONT

 The traumatic homecoming of a wounded warrior.

The daughter of alcoholics who left her orphaned at 17, Jolene “Jo” Zarkades found her first stable family in the military: She’s served over two decades, first in the army, later with the National Guard. A helicopter pilot stationed near Seattle, Jo copes as competently at home, raising two daughters, Betsy and Lulu, while trying to dismiss her husband Michael’s increasing emotional distance. Jo’s mettle is sorely tested when Michael informs her flatly that he no longer loves her. Four-year-old Lulu clamors for attention while preteen Betsy, mean-girl-in-training, dismisses as dweeby her former best friend, Seth, son of Jo’s confidante and fellow pilot, Tami. Amid these challenges comes the ultimate one: Jo and Tami are deployed to Iraq. Michael, with the help of his mother, has to take over the household duties, and he rapidly learns that parenting is much harder than his wife made it look. As Michael prepares to defend a PTSD-afflicted veteran charged with Murder I for killing his wife during a dissociative blackout, he begins to understand what Jolene is facing and to revisit his true feelings for her. When her helicopter is shot down under insurgent fire, Jo rescues Tami from the wreck, but a young crewman is killed. Tami remains in a coma and Jo, whose leg has been amputated, returns home to a difficult rehabilitation on several fronts. Her nightmares in which she relives the crash and other horrors she witnessed, and her pain, have turned Jo into a person her daughters now fear (which in the case of bratty Betsy may not be such a bad thing). Jo can't forgive Michael for his rash words. Worse, she is beginning to remind Michael more and more of his homicide client. Characterization can be cursory: Michael’s earlier callousness, left largely unexplained, undercuts the pathos of his later change of heart. 

Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s aftermath.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-57720-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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