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GEEK LOVE

With wit and poetry, Dunn redefines the limits of the acceptable.

Like a collaboration between John Irving and David Lynch, this audaciously conceived, sometimes shocking tale of love and hubris in a carnival family exerts the same mesmeric fascination as the freaks it depicts, despite essential structural flaws.

In language as original and fantastic as her story, Dunn (Attic, 1970; Truck, 1971) tells the tale of Binewski's Carnival Fabulon, an unremarkable traveling show until patriarch Aloysius decides to breed his own freaks. Using drugs, insecticides and radioactivity, Al and his wife Crystal Lil, sometime geek, produce Arturo, a thalidomide child; Elly and Iphy, beautiful Siamese twins; Olympia, the novel's narrator, an albino hunchbacked dwarf trained as a barker; and the outwardly normal but telekinetic Chick. With overtones of classical tragedy, Olympia relates Arturo's growing power: first over his sisters, who vie for his love, then over the entire show, and finally over the many followers of the cult of "Arturism," who, like their prophet, have pieces of themselves amputated to transcend appearance. (Arms and legs become lion food; hands and feet, fodder for "transcendental maggots," ironic souveniors of Arturo.) Arturo's pride and jealousy combine with the arrival of a failed assassin, now a freak himself, and with the twins' sideline of selling "norms" unique sex, to bring the show to a flaming end. Although the framing story—years later, Olympia schemes to save Miranda, her daughter by Arturo, from a perverse philanthropist—is poorly integrated, and the novel sometimes judders along, this is captivatingly original stuff.

With wit and poetry, Dunn redefines the limits of the acceptable.

Pub Date: March 27, 1989

ISBN: 394-56902-4

Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

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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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