THE HALF-LIFE

Unglamorous and sad, but compelling.

A first novel explores two friendships in two centuries in the Pacific Northwest.

Raymond’s impressive debut lays out stories linked by shared ground near Portland, Oregon. Callow Cookie Figowitz, cook for a trapping party in the early 19th century, finds a naked stowaway on the fringe of his campsite and, despite the dwindling food supplies, feeds and hides the handsome Henry, an energetic young character who has already sailed the globe and is now hiding from the pack of Russians who murdered his Indian friends nearby. Their ensuing deepening friendship will lead the young men into a somewhat daffy economic venture, the extraction and sale of castoreum, a beaver musk highly prized in China. The castoreum sells, but Cookie is clapped in a Cantonese prison for decades. A hundred and fifty years later, teenagers Tina Plank and Trixie Volterra stalk the same acres, now a slightly bedraggled hippie refuge, in the 1980s. Trixie, exiled from LA after brushes with the law, is living with a family friend. Tina’s mother’s research project in Santa Cruz has fallen victim to Reaganomics, so she’s come to Oregon to regroup, bringing her smart but sullen daughter, who slowly bonds with the more flamboyant Trixie. The hippie ethic leaves the sloppily educated girls to their own devices, in this case the evolution of a goofy but imaginative screenplay about a Philadelphia physician who invents the frontal lobotomy. In the midst of the surprisingly successful beginnings of the film project, Neil Rust, who owns the ragtag farm, uncovers a pair of skeletons on ground that used to be a bog. Despite forensic evidence that the bones belong to a European and an Asian, the local Indians claim ownership and burial rights. The stalemate over the bones becomes a big news story that will eventually trample the film venture and lead to a tragedy as sad as that of Cookie’s end in that same bog.

Unglamorous and sad, but compelling.

Pub Date: May 14, 2004

ISBN: 1-58234-448-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2004

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 30


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015


  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner


  • National Book Award Finalist

A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 30


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015


  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner


  • National Book Award Finalist

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

Categories:

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

Categories:
Close Quickview