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BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE MUSEUM

Spanning generations and both world wars, this British debut leaves no stone unturned in recounting the humorously turbulent family history of Ruby Lennox. Some novels grab the reader and hold on in a relentless pull to the finish. Others slowly reveal their secrets, unveiling quiet charms. Atkinson, winner of the Ian St. James Award for her short stories, confidently creates a narrative and characters that fall into the latter category—a quirky assortment of angelic RAF gunmen and lecherous village butchers. With its unique beginning—``I exist!'' cries Ruby, a minute-old fetus—the journey of Ruby's subsequent development, birth, and life up to middle age unfold amid alternating chapters narrating the tragicomic chronicle of her Yorkshire ancestors. From her great-grandmother Alice, who may or may not have died shortly after the itinerant photographer came round; to her grandmother Nell, who lost one fiancÇ after another to the war to end all wars, finally settling for what was left; to her own mother, the formidable and hopelessly disenchanted Bunty, Ruby not only has the phantoms of the past to contend with but also her less than perfect immediate family. Life ``above the shop'' (pet shop, then medical supply mart after a fire consumes the pets) is an unending ordeal what with Bunty's permanent frown and father George's frequent indiscretions, not to mention the two other Lennox girls and the deadly secret they all keep from Ruby. With a natural storyteller's flair, Atkinson tumbles forth an array of anecdotes, revealed secrets, and eccentric snippets of love and death that finally build into the splendid chronicle, ghosts and all, of Ruby's life. With a sly, biting humor and honest warmth, a thoroughly enjoyable first novel with the promise of good things to come.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-312-13928-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1995

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A LITTLE LIFE

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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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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

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