Palmer’s fine wit is certainly on display, but all the straight talk about female empowerment and self-analysis feels...

GIRL BEFORE A MIRROR

A Washington, D.C., ad executive tackles what appears to be the 21st-century woman’s greatest challenge: learning to be happy with herself.

Anna Wyatt just turned 40 and has a plan for her professional future—pitch an ad for Lumineux shower gel and hopefully the whole parent company, Quincy Pharmaceuticals, will come her way. This would get Anna out of Holloway/Greene’s pink ghetto of lady products to play with the big boys. She’s assigned illustrator Sasha Merchant—so stunning she’s confused for a model—and the two become fast friends. Sasha is obsessed with Be the Heroine, Find Your Hero, a self-help guide for women based on the plots of romance novels. They use the book as inspiration for their campaign, win over the Lumineux team and soon find themselves in Phoenix at RomanceCon, a romance-novel convention, where they will find the face of Lumineux from the male cover models in the annual pageant. There is much bicep ogling. Meanwhile, at the Phoenix Biltmore, Anna meets Lincoln Mallory: British, witty and finely attired. After a steamy elevator ride, the two begin a lusty affair touched with sadness; they keep telling each other they're too emotionally damaged to have a real relationship. Anna felt unloved by her parents, and Lincoln feels guilty over his Iraq experience. None of this is very convincing, and too often the novel reads like a self-help book itself, lacking the kind of subtlety needed for complex characterizations. When Anna and Lincoln leave Phoenix to go back to their real lives, Anna asks him to meet her in a year. Will they wait for each other? Will Anna break the glass ceiling? Palmer offers a bumpy ride to a satisfying end.

Palmer’s fine wit is certainly on display, but all the straight talk about female empowerment and self-analysis feels heavy-handed and clichéd.

Pub Date: Jan. 27, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-229724-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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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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A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy,...

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME

Britisher Haddon debuts in the adult novel with the bittersweet tale of a 15-year-old autistic who’s also a math genius.

Christopher Boone has had some bad knocks: his mother has died (well, she went to the hospital and never came back), and soon after he found a neighbor’s dog on the front lawn, slain by a garden fork stuck through it. A teacher said that he should write something that he “would like to read himself”—and so he embarks on this book, a murder mystery that will reveal who killed Mrs. Shears’s dog. First off, though, is a night in jail for hitting the policeman who questions him about the dog (the cop made the mistake of grabbing the boy by the arm when he can’t stand to be touched—any more than he can stand the colors yellow or brown, or not knowing what’s going to happen next). Christopher’s father bails him out but forbids his doing any more “detecting” about the dog-murder. When Christopher disobeys (and writes about it in his book), a fight ensues and his father confiscates the book. In time, detective-Christopher finds it, along with certain other clues that reveal a very great deal indeed about his mother’s “death,” his father’s own part in it—and the murder of the dog. Calming himself by doing roots, cubes, prime numbers, and math problems in his head, Christopher runs away, braves a train-ride to London, and finds—his mother. How can this be? Read and see. Neither parent, if truth be told, is the least bit prepossessing or more than a cutout. Christopher, though, with pet rat Toby in his pocket and advanced “maths” in his head, is another matter indeed, and readers will cheer when, way precociously, he takes his A-level maths and does brilliantly.

A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy, moving, and likely to be a smash.

Pub Date: June 17, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50945-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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