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Letters to Alice

An ardent, well-told story that manages to connect Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, and Doctor Zhivago.

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A New York City writer and editor and his publishing-executive wife try to keep their marriage together and advance their careers and causes in Grossman’s debut novel.

Frazier Pickett lives in the West Village neighborhood of Manhattan with his wife Margaret and their two kids. He works as an editor at Flying Pens, a B-list literary agency, while she’s flown up the ladder to become director of creative nonfiction at HarperCollins. Lately, Frazier has been under the spell of a French girl named Anastasie Moreau, his new muse, while Margaret has been fixated on a project concerning a poet whose work is connected to the Arab Spring. Lower Manhattan is buzzing with the beginnings of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and a pro-Israel group named Temple Mount Zionists has been making noise in New York as well as in Omaha, Nebraska. A parallel plotline, set in Russia, tells the story of Katya Ivashov, a writer in the late 1930s who’s involved with a Jewish anti-fascist group during Stalin’s purges. Her extraordinary experiences include working with Boris Pasternak at his country house as he’s writing Doctor Zhivago. As Katya struggles to find her exiled lover, Oleg, she also bears the responsibility for ensuring the publication of both Zhivago and her own book, My Long Journey Home. Back in present-day New York, Frazier and Margaret discover Katya’s story, which has profound personal and professional implications for them that also connect with the uprisings they see at home and abroad. Grossman writes with enough spirit and optimism that the novel’s complex, likable characters have room to flourish. Frazier and Margaret’s relationship is a wonderful depiction of a marriage that’s somewhat on the rocks but still has great communication and emotion: “Frazier both hated and loved Margaret’s lionhearted tenacity, probably because he wished he had more of it himself.” The author’s keen observations about the American mortgage fiasco are given with down-home realism during a crisis involving Frazier’s family in Texas. New York is shown as being as alive as ever but also filled with “dim-eyed ones who were in between dreams or broken to the point of no return.” The novel is overlong, with some paragraphs spanning multiple pages. Yet it succeeds very well at telling a story of characters discovering a hidden past as they stumble toward a more meaningful future.

An ardent, well-told story that manages to connect Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, and Doctor Zhivago.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9976708-9-9

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Occupy the Word Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2016

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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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