A mixed bag of four short pieces featuring two to savor and two to skim.

INSIDE ORWELL AND OTHER STORIES

Another selection of stories from Raffetto (The Girl from Summer and Other Stories, 2013).

This blend of fact, fiction and commentary consists of four short pieces: “Three A.M.,” “Inside Orwell,” “The Selection of ’92” and “The Georges.” The first tackles the troubled but fascinating union of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, sparked by the narrator’s relationship with a girl who reminded him of Zelda. The narrator contrasts Scott Fitzgerald with George Orwell, who “was not seduced by bright shiny things.” He tells of how the Fitzgeralds led a life of parties, arguments and excesses, fueled by alcohol and money woes; Zelda was drawn to writing and ballet, but mental illness prevailed, and she met a cruel end at a sanatorium in Asheville, North Carolina. The second piece concerns Orwell, a shrewd political observer, with a brief aside on the narrator’s background, and a book he published to positive reviews that failed to generate substantial sales. Raffeto writes of Orwell’s life-altering experiences in the Spanish Civil War and how he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four on his deathbed. The first two pieces are cohesive, focused and absorbing. The book falters in the third, set in the days preceding the 1992 presidential election, with Democrat Alex and Republican Brad as competing copier salesmen. Alex’s relationship with an ex-girlfriend is intriguing, but his squabbles with Brad don’t pack the punch of the Fitzgerald or Orwell stories. The piece seems designed to favor one candidate and party over the other. The final piece is the weakest: an essay concerning Orwell and George Zimmerman, the killer of Trayvon Martin. It links Zimmerman’s attitudes with those of President George W. Bush (“liar and lunatic”) and compares Orwellian Newspeak to Fox News’ justifications of Zimmerman’s actions. It includes the author’s pointed interjections about the mishandling of the case; for example, he calls the killing of Trayvon Martin “another lynching.” The essay brims with righteous indignation and hindsight, but this diminishes its overall impact.

A mixed bag of four short pieces featuring two to savor and two to skim.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0692256404

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Noovella.com

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2014

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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