Ellman’s use of visuals and wordplay, as well as her comic sensibility, is very much a matter of taste, though her tone...

MIMI

Another self-consciously erudite comedy from Ellmann (Doctors and Nurses, 2006, etc.), this time a romance about a plastic surgeon whose love for a good woman helps him take stock.

On Christmas Eve—the novel is organized by holidays—plastic surgeon Harrison Hanafan slips on the ice in Midtown Manhattan and sprains his ankle. Having recently broken up with his girlfriend, Gertrude, a rich art lover with no redeeming characteristics except her son (born by parthenogenesis), Harrison recuperates at home for weeks with his newly adopted cat, Bubbles, playing music and making lists as is his wont. An invitation that arrives in the mail to give a speech at his old high school causes him to call his sister Bee, who escaped her abusive husband and is now a sculptor in England, and to ruminate about his unhappy childhood. Afraid of speechmaking, he hires a coach who turns out to be the plump, middle-aged mystery woman who saved him on Christmas Eve by putting him in a cab. Love blooms between Harrison and Mimi, full of bons mots and more lists that give the author a chance to share her sociological and cultural insights ad nauseam. The romance does face bumps in the road. Gertrude arrives and tries to seduce Harrison just as Mimi walks in. Then, there is the random murder of Bee, shot by a crazed ex-soldier in a rage against women. And Bubbles is run over but survives. The skimpy plot of Harrison’s emotional and moral growth is encased in thick layers of social commentary, one-liner repartee and those endless lists. The sense of being preached to is strong throughout. And excepting the lyrics to some lovely old songs like “Joe Hill” and “She’ll Be Comin' Round the Mountain,” the appendix with Harrison’s feminist manifesto is mostly annoying.

Ellman’s use of visuals and wordplay, as well as her comic sensibility, is very much a matter of taste, though her tone strongly implies that the readers who don’t get her are merely plebeians anyway.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-62040-020-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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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