Not quite in the class of Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show, or other top-shelf McMurtry, but still a lot of fun.

THE LAST KIND WORDS SALOON

Prolific novelist and pop historian McMurtry (Custer, 2012, etc.) offers another pleasing yarn for fans of the Old West, none of whom will hanker for a trip to the dentist after reading it.

It was a just a matter of time before McMurtry returned to Lonesome Dove territory and, having written about Calamity Jane, Billy the Kid and other such epic characters, turned to perhaps the most famous of all, Wyatt Earp and company. His newest oater brings Dove background character Charles Goodnight to the fore. Hard-living but oddly retiring, he and his dusty-chapped cowpokes are in their element in the country into which Earp and Doc Holliday have newly ridden, embarking on a cowcentric career that, by book’s end, will take them to destiny in Tombstone, where the inhabitants endure the job of trying to “meet the tower of dust created by nine hundred cattle as they passed through a town that was dusty anyway.” McMurtry’s tale is short, but he packs a terrific lot of action into his pages; in between gunfights and extractions, the constant bantering between Earp and Holliday echoes that of Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call (“Irascible, clean out your damn ears”). A nicely turned running joke has Holliday and Earp never quite certain of just where they are; as Wyatt says, “[t]his is Long Grass, which is nearly in Kansas, but not quite. It’s nearly in New Mexico, too, but not quite. Some have even suggested that we might be in Texas.” If they are, it’s the Texas of McMurtry’s imagination, a place full of tough outlaws and tougher Comanches and, refreshingly, a place where the women are just as strong as the men and just as involved in the story. A nice touch, too, is the subtle frame provided by an object that, like the clan that made it, staggered out of the High Plains and Tombstone into Hollywood, with plenty of dents and dings to show for it.

Not quite in the class of Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show, or other top-shelf McMurtry, but still a lot of fun.

Pub Date: May 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-87140-786-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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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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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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