Given an impressive track record that runs from Facing the Music (1988) to The Rabbit Factor (2003), few will doubt that in...

A MIRACLE OF CATFISH

The inhabitants of a rural Mississippi town circle one another warily, just steps away from open conflict, in Brown’s busy sixth novel, left unfinished when he died in 2004.

Valedictory introductions by the author’s friend Barry Hannah and editor Shannon Ravenel offer pre-emptive strikes against anticipated criticism, but they really aren’t necessary: Even incomplete, the book has much to offer. Its cast of vivid characters features septuagenarian farmer Cortez Sharp, soured by caring for a moribund wife confined to her wheelchair and enslaved by TV, who channels his energies into a pond on his property to be stocked with catfish. We also meet Cortez’s supplier, Tommy Bright, whose fish farm is endangered by his gambling debts; Cortez’s daughter Lucinda, living in Atlanta with boyfriend Albert, who’s afflicted with Tourette’s syndrome and speaks in rhyming obscenities; and Cortez’s tenant Cleve, an African-American ex-convict who undertakes to discourage the soldier who’s courting his daughter. The most substantial subplot focuses on neighboring youngster Jimmy, who becomes Sharp’s unlikely confidant, and Jimmy’s unnamed father, an embittered maintenance man who follows his straying wife’s adulterous example with unforeseen and depressing consequences. Brown digs deep into these weathered souls, repeatedly surprising the reader with quirky, explosive behavior and even contrary moments of grace. He was unexcelled in describing people at work and the whiplash confusion of sudden, violent action. Though the narrative was clearly building toward a complex resolution of its separate elements, the final 60 or so pages—which really ought to have been separated from the main text and presented in an appendix—are only disjointed stabs at a conclusion.

Given an impressive track record that runs from Facing the Music (1988) to The Rabbit Factor (2003), few will doubt that in time, the author would have completed the task and perhaps even crafted a great book.

Pub Date: March 20, 2007

ISBN: 1-56512-536-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2007

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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

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A LITTLE LIFE

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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