Sudsy adolescent melodrama is compensated for by a complex portrayal of small-town life, and by the care second-novelist...

A YEAR AND A DAY

An Iowa teenager grows through a year of grieving after her mother’s suicide—in a gentle story hovering on the brink of sentimentality.

One night in the spring of 1975, Alice’s mother Annie parks her car on a train track and waits for the train to hit. Three days later, 15-year-old Alice begins to hear her dead mother’s voice. Annie, in fact, fills Alice in on so many otherwise unknowable details about her past that after awhile the voice begins to feel less like a spiritual connection and more like simply a contrivance for getting information across. We learn that Annie left Iowa at 17, heading to New York with a man she met on a train after the man she really loved died. Four years later, she came home with one baby in her arms and pregnant with another. Being the kind of troubled-but-charismatic single mother now almost a cliché of contemporary women’s fiction, she was adored by her kids but never did fit back into small-town life. Now, though, Alice, her 16-year-old brother Will, and their guardian—Annie’s older sister Aggie—must cope with Annie’s death. Aggie turns to art and faces her life-long loneliness. Will, a star athlete too kind and brotherly to pass belief, breaks up with his genuinely nice girlfriend and starts hanging out with sensitive bad boy Joe Fry. It’s not long before Alice and Joe make eye contact and Alice soon loses her virginity. Then Alice discovers that class slut Paula—a nicer girl than her looseness would suggest—is pregnant. Heartbroken, Alice assumes Joe is the father, but readers will have already guessed the truth.

Sudsy adolescent melodrama is compensated for by a complex portrayal of small-town life, and by the care second-novelist Pietrzyk (Pears on a Willow Tree, 1998 ) takes in developing the little moments that make up Alice’s life.

Pub Date: March 2, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-055465-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2003

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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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Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s...

HOME FRONT

 The traumatic homecoming of a wounded warrior.

The daughter of alcoholics who left her orphaned at 17, Jolene “Jo” Zarkades found her first stable family in the military: She’s served over two decades, first in the army, later with the National Guard. A helicopter pilot stationed near Seattle, Jo copes as competently at home, raising two daughters, Betsy and Lulu, while trying to dismiss her husband Michael’s increasing emotional distance. Jo’s mettle is sorely tested when Michael informs her flatly that he no longer loves her. Four-year-old Lulu clamors for attention while preteen Betsy, mean-girl-in-training, dismisses as dweeby her former best friend, Seth, son of Jo’s confidante and fellow pilot, Tami. Amid these challenges comes the ultimate one: Jo and Tami are deployed to Iraq. Michael, with the help of his mother, has to take over the household duties, and he rapidly learns that parenting is much harder than his wife made it look. As Michael prepares to defend a PTSD-afflicted veteran charged with Murder I for killing his wife during a dissociative blackout, he begins to understand what Jolene is facing and to revisit his true feelings for her. When her helicopter is shot down under insurgent fire, Jo rescues Tami from the wreck, but a young crewman is killed. Tami remains in a coma and Jo, whose leg has been amputated, returns home to a difficult rehabilitation on several fronts. Her nightmares in which she relives the crash and other horrors she witnessed, and her pain, have turned Jo into a person her daughters now fear (which in the case of bratty Betsy may not be such a bad thing). Jo can't forgive Michael for his rash words. Worse, she is beginning to remind Michael more and more of his homicide client. Characterization can be cursory: Michael’s earlier callousness, left largely unexplained, undercuts the pathos of his later change of heart. 

Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s aftermath.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-57720-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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