A sensitively rendered story about the impact of the past on the future, and about the morally clarifying effects of war.

Whisper In My Ear

Three young Americans, haunted and buoyed by family legacies, meet during the Vietnam War in this debut historical novel.

In the 1960s, Dion Murphy is a star middle linebacker descended from a long line of soldiers dating back to the Civil War. He desperately wants to live up to their accomplishments and the family’s reputation for honor, so he stays at Bryant Military Academy, where his relatives went, even after he’s accepted into the considerably more prestigious West Point; later, he turns down a chance at a pro football career to serve in the Marines during the Vietnam War. Cathy Addison has the soul of a caregiver, much like her courageous, compassionate ancestor, who was murdered by Native Americans. Like Dion, she’s also attached to the virtue of honor; as a result, she attempts to remain true to her fiance, despite his boorish behavior. She becomes a nurse in the Navy medical corps and gets deployed to Vietnam. Norman Coddington is born to a prominent family in Boston but suffers due to a chillingly cold mother and absentee father. He wrestles with existential angst, which expresses itself as a reckless embrace of risk, which led him to Vietnam. All three characters encounter, in one way or another, the savage lessons of war and are transformed by them. At one point, for example, Norman reflects on his dreams of war glory: “Yet now those fantasies meant little in the face of the harsh realities of combat, and he’d become aware that he was a foolish lad when he’d spawned those ideals.” Overall, this novel is first and foremost a tale about grappling with one’s ineluctable past. Hardy masterfully depicts how the weight of family history can accumulate over successive generations, and how such a legacy can be either a guiding compass or an oppressive yoke. He also deftly captures the barbarous reality of war. The three characters’ stories ultimately intersect, but only very late in the novel, so each plot maintains its own autonomous life. This is a long book, though, at more than 750 pages, due in part to the author’s liberal expansion of side plots. Also, readers may find that Cathy’s naïveté when it comes to her suitors defies credulity.

A sensitively rendered story about the impact of the past on the future, and about the morally clarifying effects of war.

Pub Date: July 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5075-5271-1

Page Count: 540

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2016

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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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