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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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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