In this collection, California in all its glorious complexity comes vividly to life.



John Freeman understands California.

Freeman was raised in Sacramento, and his sensibility is personal but also collective in the sense that he has thought deeply about the state. “California,” he writes in his introduction to this sixth issue of his eponymous literary journal, “has for a long time been seen as the Valhalla of far-flung dreams.…California is also, however, the site of real people’s homes.…This schism—between what California represents in popular imagination and what it is, what it means to live there, to be from there—means Californians collide constantly with the rupture of existence.” Such a notion animates the 30 pieces of prose and poetry gathered here. The work is wide-ranging, by newcomers and established talents: Xuan Juliana Wang, Elaine Castillo, Frank Bidart, D.A. Powell. It tells the story of California in pieces, which is the only way it can be told. Jaime Cortez writes of fire and evacuation: “It occurs to me that in unison, millions of us are inhaling the sofas and ottomans of Paradise, the cars and gas stations of it, the trees and lawns, the clothes and detergent, the wedding pictures and divorce papers, the cadavers.” Héctor Tobar imagines a boy left alone so often by his working mother that she no longer needs to warn him, “Don’t turn on the stove or play with matches. Don’t open the door if anyone knocks. Don’t play with the electrical plugs.” Both writers are addressing what we might call ordinary peril—or more accurately, the necessity of doing what we have to do. Such a requirement sits at the center of California life. Some of the work touches on the broader myths by which the state is often stereotyped: Jennifer Egan on post-1960s San Francisco, Geoff Dyer on cannabis culture, Rachel Kushner on cars. But even here, the focus is on the idiosyncratic, the individual, rather than on the cliché. “We have not talked about your transcendence,” former poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera insists in “California Brown,” a poem that recapitulates, in part, the state’s virulent racial history, “we have not talked about the forces of power / ripped into your bones & flamed out of your face.” The point—or one of them—is that, in California, one must learn to persevere.

In this collection, California in all its glorious complexity comes vividly to life.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4787-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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

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...


 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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