Whether she’s fretting about her weight or worrying if she is correctly quoting Kahlil Gibran, this ’60s survivor is a hoot.


In this charming coming-of-middle-age novel from Mars (The Secret Keepers, 2000, etc.), a neurotic New Yorker loses her job and possibly her marriage when she buys a rundown country house.

Ellen Kenny still thinks of herself as a free spirit. But the young woman who skinny dipped on Cape Cod has turned into a nervous 40-something who was fired after speaking her mind. In her quest for “ipsissimus,” the quality of being most herself, she acts on a whim, buying a ramshackle old house in upstate New York on the way to visit her more centered younger sister in Montreal. The house, which she views as a source of adventure, soon flips her life into crisis. Her straight-laced husband Tommy refuses to deal with it, and Ellen takes off alone, afraid that she has pushed him too far. In rural Eagle Beak, she finds bugs, dirt and eccentric locals, including the angry sculptor son of the house’s late owner and an ex-biker neighbor, whose happiness seems permanently threatened by an unusual ailment. They in turn see her as an object of amusement. Gradually she learns to fit in and rediscovers her original, spontaneous self. When a crisis overcomes her sister, however, her newfound balance is tested. As she cares for her sister’s toddler, as well as her quirky new family of choice, Ellen discovers a life that works for her. Mars leavens Ellen’s potentially annoying idiosyncrasies with sly humor, and she revels in her heroine’s ’60s-cum-New Age mentality. “[S]he had raised the anchor and sailed away from her former self. She had left her baggage on the cosmic dock,” Mars writes without irony.

Whether she’s fretting about her weight or worrying if she is correctly quoting Kahlil Gibran, this ’60s survivor is a hoot.

Pub Date: July 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-37869-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2008

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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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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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