TALK OF ANGELS

The skilled prose of Irish author O'Brien (18971974) transmutes the material of a conventional coming-of-age tale (``banned in Ireland in 1936 for its frank depiction of lesbianism'') into a rich, absorbing study of character and culture. It's 1922, and Mary Lavelle, the 22-year-old daughter of a widowed doctor in Ireland, is quiet and seemingly conventional, yet she has two qualities that are bound to attract notice: her startling beauty and her yearning to become an independent wanderer. Mary is engaged to nice-but-dull John MacCurtain, a demobilized soldier now working as shipping clerk. John cautiously insists on waiting for marriage until he has a good income, and so Mary, feeling fondness but no great ardor for her fiancÇ, decides to make use of the time to become a governess in Spain—a then traditional occupation for rootless Irishwomen. She finds work tutoring the daughters of a family headed by the aristocratic Don Pablo Areavaga, whose marriage—complicated, sexless, but not unloving—is explored in depth. Despite initial homesickness, Mary soon takes to her charges, who include the vain, gregarious Pilar and the spirited, amusingly precocious Milagros. With her youth and looks, their new governess provokes comment in the spinsterish community of Irish ``misses,'' but she nevertheless finds friends in Rosie O'Toole, a spunky eccentric, and Agatha Conlon, an austere, mysterious semi-recluse. As Mary develops a taste for bullfights and an infatuation with Spain in general, she comes to find answering John's daily letters a chore. Events reach a crisis when she meets Don Pablo's married son, Juanito—while, at the same time, Agatha is developing her own illicit passion for Mary. Passive and impressionable Mary is sometimes a frustrating heroine, but O'Brien writes with a striking grace and acuity that illuminate not only the landscape of but the complexity of the people living in it. (Film rights to Miramax)

Pub Date: June 27, 1997

ISBN: 0-7868-6191-6

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1997

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

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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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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