A hilariously funny, compact volume about a hotel’s denizens that delivers well-aimed zingers—a winner.

The Zonderling

In this comic novel, a young Midwestern woman moves to an eccentric residential hotel in New York City.

Heather Baumhauer, 27, fresh master’s degree in hand, has no intention of staying in her tiny hometown of Poubelle, Wisconsin: “I’m not going to spreadsheet my life away in snowmobile insurance.” She dreams of moving to New York, where she can meet people from other places and have exotic experiences like riding the subway, eating real bagels, and working in “Something just really international.” Desperate for affordable housing, Heather discovers The Zonderling, a residential hotel for women run by the Altruistic Army. The hotel bears some resemblance to the famous Barbizon (“In the world of New York boardinghouses, the Barbizon was an elegant, fashionable sorority house. The Zonderling was a scrappy Muppets’ Happiness Hotel”). Bathrooms are shared, electricity is sketchy, and few rooms have air conditioning—but the rent remains affordable, something of a miracle. A friendly resident named Jennifer Vang fills Heather and her new North Dakotan roommate, Emily, in on other Zonderling denizens: “Stinky Carrie and Porn Lisa, not to be confused with Normal Lisa,” for example, and the infamous Loretta, an elderly longtime resident who annoys everyone. Heather and Emily pursue employment and learn how to get along in New York, finally joining Jennifer to bring Loretta her richly deserved comeuppance. Niebruegge (Mistake, Wisconsin, 2014) is a gifted comedy writer, with the gems coming fast in this zippy novel. She deftly skewers New York types like “classic finance bros” or ventures like the Urban Woodsman Workshop, whose wooden toys are handcrafted upstate: “The toy manager called it ‘farm to playground.’ ” The novel explores the culture clash faced by Emily and Heather with insight as well as humor; it’s not that Midwesterners aren’t aggressive, but they “preferred hate-baking a cake without adding enough vanilla, and giving it to their nemesis with an I-hate-you smile.” Her portrait of The Zonderling, however zany, feels both affectionate and authentic, leaving readers wanting more.

A hilariously funny, compact volume about a hotel’s denizens that delivers well-aimed zingers—a winner.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9908710-3-3

Page Count: 170

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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