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THE LAST BRAZIL of BENJAMIN EAST

A NOVEL

A spirited, hopeful novel that serves as a reminder that change is always possible.

A returned expat and a young artist take a road trip across America.

This novel from Freedman (Bounce, 2011, etc.), a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, is a tale of reinvention and second chances. Serial entrepreneur and perpetual optimist Benjamin East left America nearly 40 years ago to try his luck in Brazil. Now, it’s 1980, and having lost both his fortune and his beloved wife, Gisela, he steps off the plane in Miami, hops on the Greyhound, and heads north, intent on selling his quirky first novel to a New York publisher. In Washington, D.C., he’s waylaid by the decades-younger Amy, who’s fleeing her abusive husband. Somewhat implausibly, Amy begs Benjamin to accompany her to New York, where she hopes to become an artist. Both get a rude awakening in Manhattan. Publishers dismiss Benjamin’s writing as amateurish, while Amy’s work is deemed too primitive for art school. This unlikely pair then light out for San Francisco, believing that California will be more welcoming to a pair of outcast dreamers. Along the way, they begin to understand what they’re really searching for. Benjamin is a classic American huckster and a salesman (he claims to have invented the phrase “the Big Apple”) who is by turns charming and grating. His fast talk exhausts, but his desperate last-chance attempts at success are touching nonetheless. In the most affecting passages, he reflects on his early days in Brazil and his relationship with Gisela, which seemed promising but became as “meandering as the River of Doubt,” marred by disappointments both personal and professional. His unlikely relationship with Amy is surprisingly complex, though there are moments when she comes across as more of an aging man’s sexual fantasy than a person. And most of the people Benjamin and Amy encounter on their journey, like pompous writer Joshua and cowboy-drifter Maynard, are little more than stock characters. Yet Freedman pulls it all together in the final pages with an ending that embraces the “infinite possibilities” of life.

A spirited, hopeful novel that serves as a reminder that change is always possible.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 9781939555106

Page Count: 282

Publisher: Bright Lights Press

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2015

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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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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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