Finely wrought characters and an illuminating portrait of the secret world of autism makes for a powerful, often tragic tale.

THE GOD OF WAR

A stunning second novel from Silver (No Direction Home, 2005, etc.): the coming-of-age tale of a boy growing up in the California desert with his autistic brother.

In 1978 Ares is 12 years old, a little man in charge of his younger brother Malcolm, who is mute, odd and fiercely defended by their mother Laurel, a counter-culture masseuse. They live in a trailer on the shore of the Salton Sea, a dying saltwater lake in the desert between Palm Springs and the edge of nowhere, a desolate place peopled by misfits and the tenacious few willing to live the hardscrabble life. Laurel practices a sort of loving carelessness with the boys, expecting Ares to fix meals, take Malcolm to the dentist, act as go-between with the school. Ares acquiesces, in large part because of the crippling guilt he feels in regards to Malcolm; having accidentally dropped him as a baby, he thinks he’s responsible for Malcolm’s condition. Laurel believes Malcolm to be perfect and hates the school that wants to test and label him, to steal his innocence with a diagnosis. The school librarian, Mrs. Poole, begins to work with Malcolm at her home, and there Ares finds a world of order and rules, a conventional normalcy as exotic to him as any desert fossil his mother brings home for display. At Mrs. Poole’s he meets her foster-care son Kevin, a 15-year-old with a history of violence who becomes Ares’s first real friend. Silver’s novel is full of looming menace—the pock-marked bleakness of the landscape (used at night for military practice), the violence Malcolm seems capable of (the school finds a shallow grave of birds he’s killed), the very real risk of Kevin, sociopathic and strung out on drugs—but perhaps the most dangerous threat is Ares’s growing adolescent rebellion, which jeopardizes their already fragile family.

Finely wrought characters and an illuminating portrait of the secret world of autism makes for a powerful, often tragic tale.

Pub Date: April 29, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4165-6316-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2008

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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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