STRIVERS ROW

Baker the social historian (he’s pretty good) trumps the novelist (not so hot) in this overstuffed novel whose parts are...

World War II Harlem is the setting for the parallel stories of a preacher (invented) and a hustler (the future Malcolm X) in Baker’s fourth novel, which concludes his New York–based trilogy.

A Harlem minister, Jonah Dove, is returning by train to New York from Martha’s Vineyard with his wife Amanda. Jonah, light enough to pass for white, and his much darker wife are saved from a mob of racist soldiers by an intrepid railroad sandwich man, 18-year-old Malcolm Little, leaving Jonah feeling impotent and humiliated. His famous father Milton (now 94) once led former slaves out of Virginia to form his first congregation. On retirement, he installed Jonah as his successor and even arranged his marriage; no surprise, then, that Jonah feels unworthy of his congregation and the too-perfect Amanda. Meanwhile, Malcolm, new to Harlem, is like a kid at Christmas, checking out the Savoy, Small’s Paradise and an anything-goes rent party. He falls in love with a beautiful white girl at the Savoy; he works as a waiter, a numbers runner, a drug dealer and a john-walker; he even has visions of Elijah Muhammad, though this reckless young blood has yet to touch bottom. Baker alternates between his two leads (goodbye, narrative momentum) while dipping frequently into their pasts. Scenes from Malcolm’s grim Michigan childhood are interwoven with striking vignettes of Elijah and Wallace Fard, his bizarre mentor; Jonah’s darkest hour occurred after rejection by his college buddies (they discovered he was colored). Affecting both men is a Harlem seething with anger at its army of occupation (the white cops) while black soldiers are being brutalized down South. Baker ends with an unlikely transformation. Wimpy Jonah, who has even botched his brief the-hell-with-it-all departure from home and church, returns to deliver a triumphant sermon, rescue Malcolm from a cop and defuse a race riot.

Baker the social historian (he’s pretty good) trumps the novelist (not so hot) in this overstuffed novel whose parts are better than the whole.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-019583-5

Page Count: 560

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Awards & Accolades

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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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MAGIC HOUR

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Sisters work together to solve a child-abandonment case.

Ellie and Julia Cates have never been close. Julia is shy and brainy; Ellie gets by on charm and looks. Their differences must be tossed aside when a traumatized young girl wanders in from the forest into their hometown in Washington. The sisters’ professional skills are put to the test. Julia is a world-renowned child psychologist who has lost her edge. She is reeling from a case that went publicly sour. Though she was cleared of all wrongdoing, Julia’s name was tarnished, forcing her to shutter her Beverly Hills practice. Ellie Barton is the local police chief in Rain Valley, who’s never faced a tougher case. This is her chance to prove she is more than just a fading homecoming queen, but a scarcity of clues and a reluctant victim make locating the girl’s parents nearly impossible. Ellie places an SOS call to her sister; she needs an expert to rehabilitate this wild-child who has been living outside of civilization for years. Confronted with her professional demons, Julia once again has the opportunity to display her talents and salvage her reputation. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love, 2004, etc.) is at her best when writing from the girl’s perspective. The feral wolf-child keeps the reader interested long after the other, transparent characters have grown tiresome. Hannah’s torturously over-written romance passages are stale, but there are surprises in store as the sisters set about unearthing Alice’s past and creating a home for her.

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-46752-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

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