Oates at her most restrained and hence best. This one almost makes up for the ludicrous overkill of My Sister, My Love...


A patient act of seduction has curiously appropriate mythic resonance in this brisk novella.

It’s a “fairy tale,” explicitly linked to the anonymous “Ballad of Barbara Allen” (excerpts from which are quoted in the text) about a cruel young beauty and the boy who died for love of her. But Oates (Wild Nights!, 2008, etc.) considerably alters those details in the story of 16-year-old Katya Spivak’s summer of employment as nanny to the young children of a wealthy couple who vacation in the posh New Jersey seaside town of Bayhead Harbor. This haven lies far from Vineland, the grimy inland hamlet where Katya’s broken and wasted family members are “scattered like sea creatures washed ashore in the wake of a terrible storm.” Marcus Kidder, an elegant, handsome older man, approaches Katya and politely courts her, gradually emphasizing his intuition that they are “soul mates.” She finds herself dreamily visiting his lavish home, first rejecting then luxuriating in his attentions, gradually edging away from the worlds she knows and fears to enter Mr. Kidder’s artfully woven web. This being Oates, there’s a considerable amount of melodrama and violence, mostly initiated by Katya’s drunken slut of a mother, and her thuggish cousin Roy. But this brief tale, oddly reminiscent here and there of Edith Wharton’s classic short novel Summer, is expertly paced and suffused, not only with the usual hasty and lax prose, but also with sharp suggestive images: e.g., Kidder’s limousine, always waiting for Katya, slinks along “silent and smooth-gliding as an undersea predator.” Furthermore, the sinister, charming, “artistic” Mr. Kidder, a king of sorts among men, emerges quite convincingly as both more and less than he appears to be.

Oates at her most restrained and hence best. This one almost makes up for the ludicrous overkill of My Sister, My Love (2008). Almost.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-15-101516-0

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Otto Penzler/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2009

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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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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