Just uneven enough to make seeking out its several gems an entertaining and rewarding reading experience.
Thematic imbalance and wan lyricism figure rather too prominently in this 24th installment of the annual series.
It’s understandable that the chaos wreaked by Hurricane Katrina continues to loom, like a buzzard hungrily circling overhead, in the contemporary Southern imagination. Nevertheless, with one exception, this volume’s several Katrina-inflected stories tell us little not already eloquently presented in news coverage and analysis of that horror. The exception is Katherine Karlin’s gritty “Muscle Memory,” in which a bereaved adult daughter honors her late father and the storm’s victims by learning her daddy’s signature skill—welding. This fine story’s detailed attention to the earthy business of living contrasts powerfully with too many flat, clichéd depictions of sexual experimentation, fraying relationships and failed marriages. That said, a generous amount of this volume’s contents is very much worth reading. Veteran authors Elizabeth Spencer and Kelly Cherry deftly identify the fallout from fallible parents’ misadventures (in “Banger Finds Out” and “Sightings,” respectively). The classic Southern emphasis on clannishness and its discontents is freshly portrayed in Michael Knight’s envisioning of a betrayed husband’s surprising encounter with his wife’s lover (“Grand Old Party”); Stephanie Powell Watt’s slyly understated account of an independent “maiden” aunt’s various effects on her semi-scandalized relations (“Family Museum of the Ancient Postcards”); and Cary Holladay’s lovely “Horse People,” which channels both Eudora Welty and Harper Lee to tell the life story of a gentle, reflective protagonist influenced in more ways than he can count by the character of his compassionate father, a respected Virginia judge. Best of all are Pinckney Benedict’s “The World, the Flesh, and the Devil,” about an American fighter pilot in Vietnam accidentally transformed from predator into “prey,” and Clinton J. Stewart’s “Bird Dog,” which illuminates with precise prose and savage irony the consequences of a well-meaning father’s attempt to make “a man” of his sensitive, musically gifted son.Just uneven enough to make seeking out its several gems an entertaining and rewarding reading experience.
Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2009
Page Count: 368
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2009
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by Hanya Yanagihara ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 10, 2015
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
Page Count: 720
Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015
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by Harper Lee ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 11, 1960
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
Page Count: 323
Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960
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