A likable, pragmatic protagonist comes of age in a comprehensively detailed, chaotic period in history.

McCormac

From the The Cleanskin Short Stories series , Vol. 2

An adolescent boy develops a political ideology during Ireland’s tumultuous Troubles in Benacre’s (Shape, Shine and Shadow, 2016, etc.) latest short story collection.

After the opening tale, “God’s People,” a discussion between prospective British MI5 agents, narrator Neill McCormac dives into an account of his life in the very next story, “What’s in a Name?” Growing up near Newry, Ireland, in what he calls the “border heartland of the Provisional IRA,” he gets an early introduction to the violence of the Troubles. His mother believes she’s cursed, as each of her children has been born on the same day that a bomb or bullet devastated lives. In “Fence Posts & Milestones,” the 10-year-old McCormac’s rather brutal fight with some other boys is upstaged when word gets out that he uttered anti–IRA remarks at school. Puberty makes it mark, as well, as he recognizes his unmistakable attraction to Aunt Úna, his mom’s younger sister; in one of the book’s best stories, “Flat Shoes and High Hopes,” he and Úna have no choice but to discuss this infatuation when they’re alone at his brother’s wedding. In “...From Little Acorns Grow,” McCormac’s college dissertation on the procurement of Provisional Irish Republican Army weapons so impresses Capt. Eric Lawrence of the British Army’s HQ Northern Ireland that he offers him a job, only half-jokingly. This ultimately leads McCormac to MI5, where he chases Michael McCann, the suspected IRA terrorist and the protagonist of Benacre’s earlier work. The author’s depiction of the historical backdrop is profound, with McCormac moving from being a witness (perusing his mother’s scrapbook of bombings, for example) to being a part of the Security Service. At times, the historical events overshadow McCormac’s sometimes-conventional childhood; for example, he acknowledges that the loss of his virginity, which happened the same night as the 1996 IRA bombing of the London Docklands, was “fairly unremarkable.” That said, the book still makes a worthy counterpart to the first volume, which centers on McCann and his decidedly more savage youth. Like that collection, this one is truly a novel in disguise; an author’s note suggests reading the stories sequentially, and certain tales’ callbacks to earlier characters or incidents make this a necessity.

A likable, pragmatic protagonist comes of age in a comprehensively detailed, chaotic period in history.

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5377-3059-2

Page Count: 420

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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