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SOMERSAULT

Oe (Rouse Up, O Young Men of the New Age, 2002, etc.) is a deeply flawed great writer, and Somersault, alas, is not one of...

An intriguing but enormously overinflated 1999 novel, Oe’s first original fiction since receiving a 1994 Nobel Prize, concerns an austere, embattled, and eventually self-destructive religious cult.

The tedious first half details the dissolution of the cult (which act is labeled “the Somersault”) by its founders, known only as Patron and Guide, when its radical wing threatened a takeover of a nuclear power plant (one hears echoes here, of course, of the 1995 nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subways). It also introduces and develops the characters of Guide, stricken with an aneurysm and hospitalized; Patron, who creates a new cult (the Church of the New Man) ten years after the Somersault, when radicals kidnap and cause the death of Guide; and Patron’s acolytes and underlings: his publicist Ogi, his female secretary Dancer, and two men Dancer recruits—Kizu, a cancer-riddled middle-aged painter, and Ikuo, the muscular, brooding young man who becomes Kizu’s protégé, model, and lover. The second half records “the Church’s” development as a thriving rustic commune (whose beginnings Oe describes very skillfully) and presents a series of increasingly complex relationships and tensions. Newly prominent figures include “radical” physician Dr. Koga, a brain-damaged musical savant (another fictionalization of Oe’s own son Hikari), the narrowly fervent “Quiet Women,” and the menacing leader of the ardent “Young Fireflies,” teenaged true believer Gii. The final pages, embracing an ambitious summer conference and “Spirit Festival” and climaxing with a violent sacrifice, vibrate with dramatic energy. But it’s too little, too late: Patron’s interminable “sermons” articulating his cults’ history and aims have long since drained the life out of the narrative. Other characters, too, talk much more than they act. Only the figure of Kizu—artist, sensualist, wavering untrue believer—justifies the implied comparisons suggested by numerous pointed allusions to (Oe’s probable specific inspiration) the later novels of Dostoevsky.

Oe (Rouse Up, O Young Men of the New Age, 2002, etc.) is a deeply flawed great writer, and Somersault, alas, is not one of his triumphs.

Pub Date: March 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-8021-1738-4

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2003

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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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THE RUMOR

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Hilderbrand’s latest cautionary tale exposes the toxic—and hilarious—impact of gossip on even the most sophisticated of islands.

Eddie and Grace Pancik are known for their beautiful Nantucket home and grounds, financed with the profits from Eddie’s thriving real estate company (thriving before the crash of 2008, that is). Grace raises pedigreed hens and, with the help of hunky landscape architect Benton Coe, has achieved a lush paradise of fowl-friendly foliage. The Panciks’ teenage girls, Allegra and Hope, suffer invidious comparisons of their looks and sex appeal, although they're identical twins. The Panciks’ friends the Llewellyns (Madeline, a blocked novelist, and her airline-pilot husband, Trevor) invested $50,000, the lion’s share of Madeline’s last advance, in Eddie’s latest development. But Madeline, hard-pressed to come up with catalog copy, much less a new novel, is living in increasingly straightened circumstances, at least by Nantucket standards: she can only afford $2,000 per month on the apartment she rents in desperate hope that “a room of her own” will prime the creative pump. Construction on Eddie’s spec houses has stalled, thanks to the aforementioned crash. Grace, who has been nursing a crush on Benton for some time, gives in and a torrid affair ensues, which she ill-advisedly confides to Madeline after too many glasses of Screaming Eagle. With her agent and publisher dropping dire hints about clawing back her advance and Eddie “temporarily” unable to return the 50K, what’s a writer to do but to appropriate Grace’s adultery as fictional fodder? When Eddie is seen entering her apartment (to ask why she rented from a rival realtor), rumors spread about him and Madeline, and after the rival realtor sneaks a look at Madeline’s rough draft (which New York is hotly anticipating as “the Playboy Channel meets HGTV”), the island threatens to implode with prurient snark. No one is spared, not even Hilderbrand herself, “that other Nantucket novelist,” nor this magazine, “the notoriously cranky Kirkus.”

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Pub Date: June 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-33452-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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