This PG-rated comedic soap opera is innocuously pleasant but neither complex nor challenging.

A Room Full of Naked Men

A small town is scandalized by the possibility of a racy entry in a local art show in Whitson’s debut novel.

Thirty-year-old Sarah Louise Upshaw’s life is a tableau of quiet mediocrity. She’s an art teacher in Sulphur Springs, Tennessee, lives at home with her parents, and is perennially single. Every year, she enters one of her paintings in the town art show, and every year, she wins third place at best and never manages to sell a single piece. The chairman of the show, town busybody Lucinda Hardin-Powell, tries to call Sarah Louise at home to see whether she plans on entering the contest again this year, but her mother, who’s inexplicably overwhelmed by anxiety, answers instead; she spontaneously announces the title of Sarah Louise’s offering as “A Room Full of Naked Men.” Sarah Louise is aesthetically committed to an uncompromising realism—she only paints what she can see—and so she’s compelled to recruit, with the help of her mother, five men to pose naked for her. (It’s never clear why she feels beholden to keep that title, however.) Some in the town, like Lucinda, are piqued by the ribald subject matter, but others, like the show’s curator, Huey Eugene Pugh, see the controversy as an opportunity to revive the event’s waning popularity. Meanwhile, Sarah Louise finally gets yanked out of her comfort zone. Readers in search of something lighthearted will find this to be a painlessly funny and sweet tale. Whitson has a keen eye for wholesome high jinks, and her family-friendly comedy achieves a sense of the ridiculous without a hint of darkness. The protagonist seems specifically designed to be blandly attractive—she only paints cats and flowers, and is incapable of producing an “emotionally draining painting.” Her companionably benign comportment, though, makes the novel’s premise hard to pull off, as there’s really no good reason to believe that her painting will be truly risqué. Also, the characters are generally formulaic; the depiction of Pugh, a flamboyant, campy gay man, seems especially shopworn.

This PG-rated comedic soap opera is innocuously pleasant but neither complex nor challenging.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-68207-074-1

Page Count: 434

Publisher: Tate Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

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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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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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