by Kevin Baker ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 15, 2002
An authoritative blend of documentary realism and driving narrative that’s just about irresistible.
The New York City draft riots of 1863 provide an appropriately violent subject for this period melodrama from the historical researcher (for Harry Evans’s The American Century) and novelist (Dreamland, 1999, etc.).
The eponymous setting is a Dantesque slum where the “only sound heard in the street is the buzzing of flies, hovering over the heaps of garbage and the horse carcasses.” That uncomfortably vivid description is offered by Herbert Willis Robinson, a New York Tribune reporter who drifts incognito throughout the Alley and environs, recording the destructive rage of an impoverished (mostly immigrant) populace reacting to the wholesale drafting of workingmen unable to pay their way out of military service. Though Robinson alone speaks as a first-person narrator, he’s one of several major characters whose viewpoints relay the increasingly complex action. Foremost is Ruth Dove, a rag-picker who has survived Ireland’s Potato Famine and the attentions of Dangerous Johnny Dolan, an embittered thief and murderer recently out of prison, and a ticking time bomb aimed in the direction of Ruth (with whom he fled Ireland, and who possesses a “treasure” Johnny wants back), her husband Billy, a runaway slave, and their five biracial children. The story of Ruth’s ordeal during “The Year of Slaughter” (1846) and escape to America is neatly juxtaposed with the entwined present fates and past histories of several other vigorously drawn characters. Prominent among them: the aforementioned Johnny, a vicious destructive force of nature; his long-suffering sister Deirdre O’Kane and her husband Tom, a wounded Civil War veteran; stoical Billy Dove, who labors against insuperable odds to exemplify the simple goodness his name suggests; truculent prostitute Maddy Boyle (who’s “kept”—though not controlled—by Robinson); wily Tammany Hall politico Finn McCool; and numerous other briefly glimpsed figures. Paradise Alley is probably too long, and the grisly, frequently nauseating naturalistic detail is laid on with a trowel. But it’s deftly plotted, fabulously detailed, and never less than absorbing.An authoritative blend of documentary realism and driving narrative that’s just about irresistible.
Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2002
Page Count: 688
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2002
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by Hanya Yanagihara ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 10, 2015
The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.
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National Book Award Finalist
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
Page Count: 720
Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015
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More About This Book
by J.D. Salinger ‧ RELEASE DATE: June 15, 1951
A strict report, worthy of sympathy.
A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.
"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….A strict report, worthy of sympathy.
Pub Date: June 15, 1951
Page Count: -
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951
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