The old, perhaps toothless saw, that the novelist is not necessarily a good critic any more than the drunk is a good bartender is certainly disproved by three contemporary cases—Sheed, Leonard and especially John Updike who is a reviewer of extraordinary grace, clarity, amiability and of course humor. This collection (more predominantly than his Assorted Prose—1965) consists primarily of his reviews for The New Yorker along with a few of those "assorted" other pieces on meeting writers (Joyce Cary, "a well-knit sandy man," or Thurber and Borges—"blindness and fame and years do island a man"); on the novel in general and writing in particular ("Why write? As soon ask, why rivet?"), a parody or so, etc. Almost never does he indulge in some of the "tendrilous" ornamentation occasionally found in his own novels. The reviews, necessarily, are important or just diverting according to the books in question. Great people bring out the best in Updike and here the pieces make lasting commentaries: Proust's Remembrance of Things Past—which he considers the finest novel for all time—"is, like the Bible, a work of consolation": there are fine discussions of Dostoyevsky, Joyce, the more circumscribed Borges who "reduces everything to a condition of mystery," Nabokov (several reviews), the "best-equipped" writer in the English-speaking world even if Updike found Ada's "nulliverse" as irritating and distracting as we did; and he resists that demanding "superb tyrant" Ivy Compton-Burnett. And in Messed-Up Life, the T. S. Matthews biography of T. S. Eliot, Updike returns Eliot, denigrated here, venerated there, to the immanent power of his work—"a steady force of seriousness, of caustic austerity, engraves [the poetry] on our minds." Updike, as a critic, represents the wisdom of that bon sens populaire—he's never taken in by donnish side (a la Murdoch) or the artifice of all those novelty novelists who recur as theoreticians in disguise. Updike is a Renaissance man of many talents and seasons, reflecting the values which reach us—reality, civilized pleasure, and those recognitions which enlarge the written word.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1975

ISBN: 0449212033

Page Count: 511

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1975

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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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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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