Metafiction that pleases and frustrates in equal measure.

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF LILIANE

A ton of factual information complements the fiction in National Book Award winner (The News From Paraguay, 2004) Tuck’s sixth novel, a family history in mosaic form.

It’s 1948. Eight-year-old Liliane, an only child, is flying from New York to Rome to visit her divorced father, Rudy. The history of Rudy’s Roman neighborhood is spelled out in detail to distance us from the characters, just as Rudy, a movie producer awkward around kids, is distanced from his daughter. German by origin, French by choice after moving to Paris, Rudy is a nonreligious, assimilated Jew. His half-Jewish ex-wife, Irène, was also German originally; now she's American and newly married to Gaby, an investment banker and WASP. With her father, Liliane speaks French, while in America, fearful of the foreigner label, she speaks only English: this is her double life. Dislocated lives are the essence of this novel, which approximates Tuck’s life just as the name Liliane approximates Lily. It jumps around in time and place. The outbreak of war in ’39 sees Rudy taken prisoner and Irène fleeing Paris with baby Liliane, to be reunited much later in Peru; but Tuck has no interest in exploiting these dramatic moments. She also zips past Rudy’s nemesis, his villainous brother-in-law, and Claude, “the love of Irène’s life.” What matters is arranging the lives of the leads, and their ancestors, on history’s canvas; context, such as Hitler’s rise to power, is all-important. What’s problematic, though, is Tuck’s dragging in real-life events (the notorious Career Girls Murders in 1963 New York; the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya) without seeming justification. Liliane’s own story, overshadowed at first by that of her sensationally beautiful mother, takes shape quite late, as she turns her instinct for fantasizing into a beginner’s novel.

Metafiction that pleases and frustrates in equal measure.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2402-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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