SILENT PASSENGERS

STORIES

Ten stories treating instances of heightened memory and perception by men, usually fathers, as ordinary life goes on around them in the North Dakota, Montana, and northern plains, by masterful but inconsistent Woiwode (Indian Affairs, 1992, etc.). There is much here that's mawkish—and much that's emotionally clear and true. In ``Possession,'' the mawkish predominates: a sheep rancher whose toddler won't sleep irritably tries to imagine what the child might be afraid of, before it dawns on him that the boy's (rightly) afraid of the rancher's brooding, petty jealousy of the mother. In both ``Winter Insects'' and ``Blindness,'' men find themselves temporarily struck blind by a combination of overwork, heightened emotional sensitivity, and snowy, hazardous weather; each is brought to safety by his young daughter, but not before the author's use of the psychological motif of sight has been painfully belabored. And in ``Sleeping Over,'' a glimpse of a former lover's clothes drying on a line sets up a terrible longing in a midwestern boy whose future seems to be evaporating before his eyes; but the woman is so scantly characterized that it's hard for a reader to understand, much less empathize. In ``Owen's Father,'' though, Woiwode is closer to his best, subtly and brilliantly rendering the chilling effect on a young man of suddenly remembering childhood events, previously buried, shared with his dead father—including the days just before the father's suicide. Affecting memories also drive ``Black Winter,'' in which a 50-ish former philosophy professor who now lives on his grandfather's farm finds a new identity in pursuing his grandfather's old trade, and the beautiful (though slow-to-start) title story, in which a father comes to terms with the partial paralysis of his beloved nine-year-old son. The other entries here are sketches—a meditation on ``Confessionals'' and a rhapsody on oranges eaten during a 1940's childhood. A mixed bag—and rather downbeat.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-689-12159-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1993

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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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A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy,...

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME

Britisher Haddon debuts in the adult novel with the bittersweet tale of a 15-year-old autistic who’s also a math genius.

Christopher Boone has had some bad knocks: his mother has died (well, she went to the hospital and never came back), and soon after he found a neighbor’s dog on the front lawn, slain by a garden fork stuck through it. A teacher said that he should write something that he “would like to read himself”—and so he embarks on this book, a murder mystery that will reveal who killed Mrs. Shears’s dog. First off, though, is a night in jail for hitting the policeman who questions him about the dog (the cop made the mistake of grabbing the boy by the arm when he can’t stand to be touched—any more than he can stand the colors yellow or brown, or not knowing what’s going to happen next). Christopher’s father bails him out but forbids his doing any more “detecting” about the dog-murder. When Christopher disobeys (and writes about it in his book), a fight ensues and his father confiscates the book. In time, detective-Christopher finds it, along with certain other clues that reveal a very great deal indeed about his mother’s “death,” his father’s own part in it—and the murder of the dog. Calming himself by doing roots, cubes, prime numbers, and math problems in his head, Christopher runs away, braves a train-ride to London, and finds—his mother. How can this be? Read and see. Neither parent, if truth be told, is the least bit prepossessing or more than a cutout. Christopher, though, with pet rat Toby in his pocket and advanced “maths” in his head, is another matter indeed, and readers will cheer when, way precociously, he takes his A-level maths and does brilliantly.

A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy, moving, and likely to be a smash.

Pub Date: June 17, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50945-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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