An earnest fictional effort that, in all, still seems to be searching for what it really wants to be about.

SERIOUSLY

Certain moments have their allure, but most things are familiar in Nevai’s (Normal, stories, 1997) tales of small-town gossip, suspicion, and intrigue.

Tamara Johanssen fled to the little Dustin, New York, because—well, because her very crazy mother burned down the family house along with the family members unlucky enough to be in it, the two exceptions being Tamara herself (out on a date, sort of) and older sister Nora, who’d already fled the coop and headed off to become a rich and big-time TV producer. This rather operatic premise, however, recedes quickly into the background as Tamara describes life in little Dustin, where she opens an art gallery—with money from sister Nora—and then segues into life as a photographer. The book is presented as a novel but reads more like a “novel-in-stories” hybrid—not that there’s anything wrong with that, except that in Nevai’s case a sense of novelistic growth seems to have gone missing. Part of the problem is the near-obligatory and afternoon-soap feel of much of the material: the mean-spirited old codger who runs the post office; the good-hearted woman who has the coffee shop; the crazed-by-property-rights person who sits on her lawn with a shotgun on Halloween—and actually shoots it at Tamara as she approaches. Add in an arsonist, a neurasthenic lesbian entrepreneur, downtrodden wives, stalkers, the wannabe Faulknerian episode of the eccentric who dies in his trailer but nobody knows it, so that—anyway, with all these lives from a latter-day Spoon River or Winesburg, Ohio, crowding the canvas, not only does Tamara’s secret (for awhile) affair with the lawyer-husband of sister Nora’s bitchy college roommate glide away as if on the river of the forgotten, but so does the theme of mother-madness that putatively first set the book’s events originally into motion.

An earnest fictional effort that, in all, still seems to be searching for what it really wants to be about.

Pub Date: June 9, 2004

ISBN: 0-316-74693-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2004

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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 strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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