A choppy, experimental tale that follows some students and their teacher during a shift in their school’s curriculum.

THIS RULER

A debut literary novel presents a kaleidoscopic view of the everyday passions and politics of high school.

Seniors Sialia Torres and James Malachite are students at Elysium Hills High School. Sialia studies art and finds beauty in the world around her while James plays soccer and goofs off with his friends. Their social circle revolves around the science classroom of Zach Tyndall, a 10-year veteran teacher who believes in his students even as he has started to become jaded by the job. Tyndall and the other teachers are angered over a new curriculum introduced by Principal Jonathan Stufa and an education consultant. “Spring Forward” is designed by a publishing company to align with standardized tests, though the teachers know that little of the money for three days of in-house training will actually make it to the classroom. The students chafe under the new conditions while learning about biology, art, and history as well as figuring out what they want out of life. A chunk of obsidian that Tyndall keeps on his desk becomes a window into the story of Cualli and Anci, two Aztec teens resisting conquistadors five centuries in the past, whose lives and growth mirror that of Sialia and James. Duff’s prose is highly lyric and fluid, zooming in and out of moments in a way reminiscent of modernist writers like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf: “So here they all sit together in the sunny science room; a particular place that most of these kids have spent so much time in over the last four years. Though not necessarily in a together fashion. It is a didactic poem unraveled, out of time.” The short chapters are essentially vignettes that jump around through time, and the narrative that emerges—such as it is—is fragmentary and somewhat difficult to parse. While some of the writing is strong, the dialogue is often awkward and unnatural. Moreover, the author’s palpable interest in what he views as a corrupt school system feels incongruous with the book’s mercurial structure. The novel demonstrates clear ambition, but it is not very much fun to read.

A choppy, experimental tale that follows some students and their teacher during a shift in their school’s curriculum.

Pub Date: March 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-578-47631-5

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2020

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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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