Although neither the plot nor the characters quite jell, Dean (This Human Season, 2007) has a darkly optimistic,...

THE IDEA OF LOVE

Brittle, sometimes brutal comedy of sex and marriage shows British and American ex-pats spending some very unhappy years in a very unromanticized South of France.

British pharmaceuticals salesman Richard lives “on the crossroads of rip-you-off-Riviera and rob-you-blind-Provence” with his French wife Valérie and 13-year-old son Maxence, who may or may not have serious psychological problems. Valérie’s parents live next door, mostly on Richard’s largesse. Drawn with few redeeming characteristics, Valérie is not only cold and lazy but seems to dislike Max. Unhappy Richard claims to yearn for an intimacy he can’t find with either Valérie or the string of women he sleeps with while traveling for his job. Valérie and Richard socialize increasingly with their equally unhappily married neighbors, artistic but shallow American Jeff and British Rachel, a devout Christian. Gradually Valérie decides she’s in love with Jeff, and Richard finds himself drawn to Rachel. Just as tensions heat up, Rachel pressures Jeff to travel with her to Africa to save orphans, realizes she has been duped—the “orphans” are not what they seem—and loses her faith. Meanwhile Richard goes to Africa to open a new territory for anti-depressants, has a moral epiphany and decides to quit his sleazy job. When Rachel learns of Valérie and Jeff’s affair, she returns to England with daughter Maud, the one human being for whom Jeff genuinely cares. Richard wants to leave France too, but not without Max; Rachel demands custody, even though the boy hates his mother. Cut off from his family, without a job, Richard slides into a drunken nervous breakdown. Eventually he connects with Rachel, and they begin a long-distance love affair just as Valérie and Jeff’s affair begins to cool. Whether Richard can find happiness remains unclear, but his shiftless yet loving in-laws may point the way.

Although neither the plot nor the characters quite jell, Dean (This Human Season, 2007) has a darkly optimistic, intellectually humanistic sensibility that recalls Iris Murdoch.

Pub Date: July 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-15-101385-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2009

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

A WEEK AT THE SHORE

A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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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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