THE ACTS OF KING ARTHUR AND HIS NOBLE KNIGHTS

"Jehan Stynebec" maintained a lifelong devotion to the 15th-century minor hoodlum and "knyght presoner, sir Thomas Malleorre," and long cherished the idea of retelling the Matter of Arthur for our time. Dating mostly from 1958-59, Steinbeck's fragmentary attempt represents both an earnest effort at scholarly perspective and a broad contemporary reinterpretation. He did not try to "translate," but simplified and condensed Malory's language while tidying up some narrative loose ends. There are five brief, fairly straightforward versions of episodes from the first book (following Eugene Vinaver's edition of the Winchester MS) and two lengthy narratives based on the Tale of Sir Launcelot du Lake and the Gawain, Ywain, and Marhalt episode. The brief pieces are usually best when closest to Malory; the fog-over-the-moors flourishes and frequent sententious interpolations rarely come off. And Malory's blunt, clear prose rhythms find little counterpart in Steinbeck: "And only then did the knights look about them. On a smooth dark water they saw a little ship covered with silken cloth. . ." for "Than the kynge loked aboute the worlde and sawe before hym in a grete water a lytyll shippe all apparayled with sylke downe to the watir." The two long pieces are freewheeling, often playful reworkings of Malory, in which Steinbeck tries to sum up his complex love of all that knighthood and the Arthurian fellowship have meant to him. Here the dominant mode is the arch and whimsical fable, much in the vein of Pippin IV, bound to enthrall and exasperate equal numbers of people. The book must be evaluated more as Steinbeckiana than as Arthuriana, not so much for its narrative foibles as because the project remained so fragmentary—including neither the Grail quest, the book of Launcelot and Guinevere, nor the Morte Arthur. A complete Arthurian cycle from Steinbeck would have been good to have. The present version remains an erratically charming curiosity.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 1976

ISBN: 0143105450

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1976

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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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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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