THINKING LIFE

A PHILOSOPHICAL FICTION

A concise and compelling philosophical tale.

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Anderson (Plato and Nietzsche, 2017, etc.) recounts a long-distance friendship between two students of Plato in this novel.

The text of this novel is mostly made up of a fictional “lost” novel (also called Thinking Life) by an obscure, early-20th-century Anglo-Italian philosopher and writer named Michael Tommasi. The story within it is narrated by an unnamed philosophy professor who recounts his interactions with another unnamed man—a “philosopher-artist” modeled on Friedrich Nietzsche, according to the fictional “editor” who rediscovered the work. The narrator—later nicknamed “Charmides,” after a figure in one of Plato’s dialogues—first meets the philosopher-artist while on vacation in the Alps: “He nodded politely as he passed, a mischievous gleam in his eye, and he rolled lightly in his stride with a gay sort of musicality.” The two bond over a love of Platonic philosophy, and their meandering conversations have a marked impact on the young narrator’s development. They continue to correspond by mail for many years, although the outbreak of World War I keeps them from seeing each other in person. It’s not until the narrator is a decade into a career in academia that he seeks to see his old friend again. Along the way, he muses on the death of his father, his relationship to alcohol, the changing landscape of academia, and the role of the philosopher (and philosopher-artist) in the world. Anderson’s prose, as filtered through the two fictional academics, Tommasi and “Charmides,” is suitably dense and allusive, although it also features frequent lyrical flourishes. In one memorable passage, for instance, “Charmides” notes that the philosopher-artist “once remarked that he loves mountain valleys with eyes, by which he meant with lakes. The image stays with me as a figure of nature personified, deified, of earth gazing into sky as a god contemplating the contents of its own mind.” As with many philosophical novels, the actual plot is nearly nonexistent. However, unlike many such works, it manages to be a compelling read nonetheless. The passion, doubt, and humility of the narrator make his investigations somehow feel urgent despite the author’s use of a distancing framing device.

A concise and compelling philosophical tale.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9967725-6-3

Page Count: 178

Publisher: S.Ph. Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2018

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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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