Marshall’s sentence-by-sentence writing shows real flare, but the zaniness feels overworked and a bit tired—like an Anne...


Madcap meets pull-the-heartstrings comedy in a first novel about a precocious orphan growing up in Washington, DC.

Elray Mayhew’s parents, Jack and Barkley, are electrocuted in a freak amusement park accident on Elray’s sixth birthday. Elray escapes with a bruise on her arm, through which her dead parents intermittently communicate with her. She is raised by “Aunt”Ajax, who is actually Jack’s cross-dressing gay brother, with help from Barkley’s brother, Uncle Harwood, who is frequently away on photography shoots. A lawsuit against the amusement park brings the Irish lawyer Rena into the family circle. A little further on the edge is Elray’s therapist, Hansueli. Elray is meant to win our sympathy, but her fey wisdom gets a little trying. In preadolescence she meets her soulmate, Raoul, while exploring the crypts beneath the Cathedral connected to her school. The two share a quest both for invisibility and invincibility. They practice “dying” and make movies of their increasingly risky escapades. But in adolescence, after an almost fatal swim across the Potomac, the friendship falls away, in part because Elray never feels she can measure up to Raoul. While Raoul attempts normalcy, Elray spends time with her grandmother. Granny, who faked her death 30 years earlier because she knew she was a bad wife and mother, has suddenly resurfaced and wins Elray’s confidence, only to use the girl against her uncles in a custody battle. After Elray exposes Granny’s manipulations, the battle explodes, but even so the family finally reunites. Meanwhile, Rena, who’s had an affair with Harwood, marries Ajax. Just as Granny dies, for real this time, Rena bears twins, a boy resembling the Jack/Ajax side of Elray’s heritage and a girl resembling the Barkley/Harwood branch. Raoul and Elray are also reunited as they discover their capacity for invincibility through love.

Marshall’s sentence-by-sentence writing shows real flare, but the zaniness feels overworked and a bit tired—like an Anne Tyler/John Irving retread.

Pub Date: July 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-8021-1748-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2003

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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