A BRIDGE BETWEEN US

With this fluid debut novel, Shigekuni raises the emotional and artistic stakes in the burgeoning genre of the multigenerational ethnic saga. In an elegant touch, protagonist Nomi notes that the Japanese character for gossip resembles a drawing of her mother, Tomoe, her great-grandmother Reiko, and her grandmother Rio sitting close together under one roof; indeed all of them initially live together in one house in San Francisco. The family trees provided at the outset are necessary here: Although the author successfully weaves together the stories of several generations of Japanese-American women, she sometimes has trouble making clear who is related to whom. Each woman recounts her life story in individual chapters, but the novel eventually narrows down to follow only Nomi, who is saving money to make a trip to Japan in fulfillment of a dream she had about promising to meet a man there. The shift works, but the hyper-sexual Nomi—men are inexplicably drawn to her, including her sister's boyfriend—is the least interesting of the characters here (her blankness, presumably, indicates how troubled she is), and her frank letters to her grandmother seem highly improbable. Nomi's lonely time in Japan is described with appropriate grit and sadness, however, and the pace picks up towards the close of the book as the narrators' voices begin to alternate more frequently. The author also has skillfully studded her tale with events that echo through the generations. Comparisons to Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club are inevitable, but Shigekuni's vision is darker and often more complex. Sometimes she seems to be pursuing the emotional underbelly in order to create drama, rather than having it rise organically from the story, but she always writes with great style- -if the novel occasionally overheats, it's not so often as to be inexcusable. Problematic in parts, but intriguing. (Author tour)

Pub Date: March 8, 1995

ISBN: 0-385-47678-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Anchor

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1994

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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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