WHITETHORN WOODS

Her sentimental morality may be predictable, but Binchy’s lilting Irish zest is undeniably addictive.

Binchy (Quentins, 2002, etc.) inserts questions of faith into her usual romantic braid of multiple storylines, in this case concerning the troubled residents, former residents and descendents of residents of an Irish town where an obscure shrine faces demolition.

Father Brian Flynn, his commitment to the priesthood already shaky, is furious at the superstitious faith people place in the shrine at St. Ann’s Well outside Rossmore, but after visiting the shrine himself, he vows to hear and help his parishioners himself. Then a proposed new highway threatens to run right through the site of the well. The efforts of Father Flynn and his congregants, particularly the saintly Neddy Nolan, whose practical wisdom has been mislabeled as simpleminded, to resolve the highway dilemma form the plot that snakes around a slew of subplots. These are often fully realized stories that stand on their own. Some of the characters actually visit the well, like the two pairs of lovers who together find a perfect living arrangement thanks to the shrine, or like Father Flynn’s sister Judy, who returns home to pray for a husband. Others, like the insane Becca, who arranges for the murder of her romantic rival, and her mother, who sells Becca’s story to the tabloids, live in Rossmore but pointedly do not visit the shrine. The majority share only a geographical connection to Rossmore, as in the case of Emer and Ken. Although their story smacks of heavenly intervention, the intermediary who kindles Emer and Ken’s romance is a gallant cab driver, not St. Ann. In Binchy’s world, well-meaning characters find happiness while an ungrateful son or an adulterous husband can expect comeuppance.

Her sentimental morality may be predictable, but Binchy’s lilting Irish zest is undeniably addictive.

Pub Date: March 9, 2007

ISBN: 0-307-26578-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2006

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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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THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

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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