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THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP

Book-club spotlighting is bound to introduce Irving's particular brio to its largest audience yet; his newest book is characteristically broad and eager, Heir to a shoe-manufacturing fortune and a Wellesley dropout, Jenny Fields becomes a nurse, which isn't quite the thing for a girl of her station. Girls of her station also have some use for men, while Jenny uses one man for one purpose only and only once: she calculatedly gets herself impregnated by an accidentally lobotomized war-veteran patient, Technical Sergeant Garp. Moreover, Jenny defies convention by writing and publishing, late in life, a memoir (entitled "A Sexual Suspect") that quickly becomes a feminist bible. Her son, T. S. Garp (named for his father), grows up meanwhile with writerly instincts of Ids own; Jenny whisks him off to Austria for an education richer in life than college would afford, and Irving shuffles Jenny offstage in order to concentrate on young Garp: his marriage to bookish Helen, his two young sons, Helen's half-hearted affair with a graduate student, and then a grotesque accident involving the entire family that maims one son, kills the other, and (by plot-tinkering) literally dismembers the cuckolding grad student. Also offered are samples of Garp's manuscripts during this time, presumably objective correlatives to Garp's life at the time, but more like a handy hole for loose and incompatible prose efforts the book would not otherwise graciously host. Jenny comes back near book's end, getting herself assassinated at a feminist political rally, but it's Garp's (and Irving's) version of the world that's in control by then. That version is richly anecdotal—almost a brocade of digression—and mostly involved with the same basically inert topics that Irving's earlier books were made of: Vienna, wrestling, wife-swapping, boy's schools, novelists. Despite the withit trappings (feminism, etc.), Irving's wild stylistic scrabble up and down the keys resolves itself into a few leaden theme chords that his veteran readers will wish that he'd broken free of by now. But this hint of staleness will be all but totally disguised to first-time readers: Irving's style and zest remain superb, and his fondness for children—his anxiety over them and their welfare—is as rare and fine and affecting and pure as Heller's or Cheever's.

Pub Date: May 1, 1978

ISBN: 0679603069

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1978

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A LITTLE LIFE

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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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THE RUMOR

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Hilderbrand’s latest cautionary tale exposes the toxic—and hilarious—impact of gossip on even the most sophisticated of islands.

Eddie and Grace Pancik are known for their beautiful Nantucket home and grounds, financed with the profits from Eddie’s thriving real estate company (thriving before the crash of 2008, that is). Grace raises pedigreed hens and, with the help of hunky landscape architect Benton Coe, has achieved a lush paradise of fowl-friendly foliage. The Panciks’ teenage girls, Allegra and Hope, suffer invidious comparisons of their looks and sex appeal, although they're identical twins. The Panciks’ friends the Llewellyns (Madeline, a blocked novelist, and her airline-pilot husband, Trevor) invested $50,000, the lion’s share of Madeline’s last advance, in Eddie’s latest development. But Madeline, hard-pressed to come up with catalog copy, much less a new novel, is living in increasingly straightened circumstances, at least by Nantucket standards: she can only afford $2,000 per month on the apartment she rents in desperate hope that “a room of her own” will prime the creative pump. Construction on Eddie’s spec houses has stalled, thanks to the aforementioned crash. Grace, who has been nursing a crush on Benton for some time, gives in and a torrid affair ensues, which she ill-advisedly confides to Madeline after too many glasses of Screaming Eagle. With her agent and publisher dropping dire hints about clawing back her advance and Eddie “temporarily” unable to return the 50K, what’s a writer to do but to appropriate Grace’s adultery as fictional fodder? When Eddie is seen entering her apartment (to ask why she rented from a rival realtor), rumors spread about him and Madeline, and after the rival realtor sneaks a look at Madeline’s rough draft (which New York is hotly anticipating as “the Playboy Channel meets HGTV”), the island threatens to implode with prurient snark. No one is spared, not even Hilderbrand herself, “that other Nantucket novelist,” nor this magazine, “the notoriously cranky Kirkus.”

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Pub Date: June 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-33452-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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