by John Barth ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 4, 1994
In a reprise of old themes, haunts, and ideas, metafiction master Barth (The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, 1991) returns to himself and his native Chesapeake Bay in this fictional memoir of a middle-aged writer embarked on an autumnal cruise. The story is told in the Barthian way, within a frame of another story — in this case, the voyage of the writer's sloop, US, south into the "Chesapeake Triangle" on the Columbus Day weekend of October 1992. And the chosen form in which the author revisits his past and his vocation, writing, is no less structured — an opera in three acts with an overture to set the scene, arias for explication, and a concluding "episong." The author/Barth is accompanied by his beloved second wife, his "Reality Principle," as he sets sail on the fine Saturday afternoon, but as the cruise continues, the writer accidentally loses his beloved pen, "Pumblechook," bought years ago in Charles Dickens's birthplace. Then the weather deteriorates, moods darken, and the US runs aground in an unfamiliar marsh. Seeking help, Barth comes across his twin sister, Jill; his lost pen; and his "counterself," invented guide, and childhood friend, Jerry Schreiber, aka Jay Wordsworth Scribner, who's there to "goose things along and frame and distance the whole show." Virtual reality takes over as the writer, claiming not to be writing an autobiography, but "a kind of ship's log of the Inside Passage," revisits his childhood in Cambridge, Maryland; his first marriage; his college teaching; his writing successes, beginning with The Floating Opera; and his encounter with the woman who became his second wife. What's fiction and perhaps what's not is as tangled as the marsh grasses of Barth's native Dorchester County — and that's part of the fun, but the heavily schematic form, as well as the frequent literary one-upmanship, is more threatening to the venture than any fall storm. Very vintage Barth, and disappointingly so, despite the occasional reminders of a talent once new and stunningly inventive.
Pub Date: May 4, 1994
Page Count: 368
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1994
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by Hanya Yanagihara ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 10, 2015
The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.
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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
Page Count: 720
Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015
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by Harper Lee ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 11, 1960
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
Page Count: 323
Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960
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