by John Updike ‧ RELEASE DATE: Jan. 1, 1996
Updike's bold attempt at the generational saga—the first such novel of his long career—falls somewhere between George Eliot and John O'Hara, and doesn't scruple to provide a few of the simpler pleasures â€¦ la Judith Krantz or Harold Robbins. In tracing the private and public histories of four generations of the Wilmot family (originally) of Paterson, New Jersey, this ambitious and energetic, though occasionally muted, novel also delineates the growing secularization of American society in this century. It begins with the agonized realization of Presbyterian minister Clarence Wilmot that he no longer believes in God and must in conscience resign his ministry. The hardships subsequently endured by the enervated Clarence's surviving family are memorably encapsulated in his "sensitive" son Teddy's difficult progress to maturity, marriage, and fatherhood in the fractious 1920s. The focus shifts to Teddy's daughter Esther ("Essie"), an extroverted beauty who, like her father and grandfather before her, finds in the excitement of motion pictures a gratifying alternative to the mundane realities of life. Essie breaks into movies in the early 1950s and—as Alma DeMott—enjoys a long career. In the novel's concluding section, "Alma's" only son, Clark, in effect reversing his family's enthrallment by Hollywood, drops out of his mother's glamorous orbit and into fundamentalist Colorado commune and toward a violent destiny all too reminiscent of recent years' headlines. It all feels more than a bit hurried, and the impression of a crash course in modern US history is intensified by long, momentum-stopping catalogues in which the fruits of Updike's obviously diligent research are numbingly displayed. Still, this is Updike—and there's much to admire in the deep and thoughtful characterizations (especially of the tormented Clarence and confused Teddy), impish humor (the summary descriptions of Essie's films are a hoot), and dependably precise and fluent prose. On balance, a more than commendable effort from an established master whose preeminence has much to do with his exuberant willingness to keep trying new things.
Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996
Page Count: 528
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1995
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by Hanya Yanagihara ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 10, 2015
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
Page Count: 720
Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015
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by Harper Lee ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 11, 1960
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
Page Count: 323
Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960
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