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THE RED SHIRT

A slender first novel that, in a series of short, impressionistic chapters, tells a disturbing tale of a young woman's love and hate for her frequently abusive father. Abandoned at the age of one by her mother Patience, who goes back to New York (working the streets there is the only way she could forget her passion for her brother Octavio), young Hannah keeps house for her father Jackson, an unsuccessful folk-singer. The two live on the shores of the Hudson River, where they raise goats to supplement the money Jackson earns by working in factories by day and singing in small, run-down clubs by night. While a senior in high school, Hannah has suddenly stopped speaking. She has forgotten the cause and can think only ``that it had been, perhaps, nothing more than the slow, sad welling up of pain.'' Deciding to ``speak and then she was going to leave,'' she confronts Jackson, whom she does not blame, though she hates him. Jackson for the first time tells Hannah about her mother, but when Hannah learns that Jackson is dying, she decides to stay on and, together with a young musician whom Jackson has befriended, nurse him. Jackson's death is the necessary catharsis, and wearing her father's red shirt Hannah retreats inside a closet. In the hospital, a doctor finally persuades her to remove the red shirt. What's revealed goes some way to explain Hannah. ``This is the beginning of sanity,'' the doctor suggests, and Hannah soon agrees. Now she ``was at the very beginning.'' Strong writing and vividly evoked scenes are undercut by a somewhat episodic structure and by characters who seem more vehicles for ideas than independent entities. Still, an interesting debut—and a writer to watch.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 1991

ISBN: 0-671-74259-0

Page Count: 108

Publisher: Delphinium

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1991

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A LITTLE LIFE

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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

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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