TIME'S ARROW

Amis this time writes about Tod Friendly, a.k.a John Young, a.k.a Odilo Unverdorben—a doctor with a chilling past no one knows about: he was a medical experimenter under Mengele at Auschwitz. No one knows—that is, except his soul, his conscience, which narrates this book: backwards. Literally backwards—not in flashbacks, but everything like a film run in reverse, with construction become destruction, age become youth, horror become innocence. ``You want to know what I do?'' asks the narrator during his stint as trauma doctor. ``All right. Some guy comes in with a bandage around his head. We don't mess about. We'll soon have that off. He's got a hole in his head. So what do we do. We stick a nail in it. Get the nail—a good rusty one—from the trash or whatever. And lead him out to the Waiting Room where he's allowed to linger and holler for a while before we ferry him back to the night. Already we're busy with this baglady we've got, welding sock and shoe plastic on to the soles of her evil feet.'' Dialogue is equally in reverse order, so that you learn the trick of reading up from the page to get the full effect. The problem here is that Amis's cleverness has a glare-y insistence to it that undercuts the moralism it means to reflect. Like London Fields, the book is mostly at home in contemporary jeremiad: about New York, about modern sex, about the homeless, about the horror that doctors so blithely encounter. The Auschwitz material, coming last, also comes least—weakened by the narration's trickiness into seeming inevitable (though Amis puts a psychosexual spin on its roots, Ö la the Reichianism of his mentor Saul Bellow) and inhospitable to the stylistic flair that Amis can impart to even the worst contemporary sins. The chipped impressionism simply and unimpressively reads like the worst facts culled from the great annals of Martin Gilbert and Lucy Dawidowicz. Amis's particularity as a writer—the ethical outrage plus the gorgeously soiled, infinitely plastic style—is still remarkable: but his nimbleness on the stage of the global, historical, Big Picture theater serves him less and less well. The Holocaust couldn't care less about his ingenuity, which turns terribilitÖ into mere tour de force.*justify no*

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-517-58515-4

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Harmony

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1991

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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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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

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

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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