A rollicking, funny, surprisingly thoughtful sendup of the current climate of political discontent.

SALT OF THE NATION

In Bloom’s satire, a New Jersey man punches out a Republican senator campaigning for the presidency and becomes a national sensation. 

Harry McBride is an ornery gravel worker in New Jersey. Just like his father who left him, his “prospects of escape diminish[ed] with each year spent swinging that big scoop shovel.” When he has the opportunity to shake the hand of Idaho Sen. Joseph P. Landon, a “true blue Republican” running for president, he clocks him in the face without so much as uttering a word. A stunned Landon ends up in the hospital with a broken nose and tailbone, and Harry somehow eludes capture by Secret Service agents and flees with the intention of making it to Mexico. Grover Budd, a bombastic radio personality clearly modeled on Rush Limbaugh, tries to demonize Harry, suggesting he’s part of a conspiracy organized by the Democratic Party to humiliate Landon. But Harry becomes a huge hit, his skyrocketing popularity fueled by social media. The principal reason he isn’t immediately caught? Most people are unwilling to turn him in. As one political strategist succinctly puts it, Harry encapsulates all the things the public at large is fed up with: “Of politicians and lobbyists, of backroom deals and huge corporations getting all the breaks while they cheat and exploit people like him. He’s sick and tired of all that and he’s sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Capturing this feeling of cultural frustration is one of Bloom’s (Hello, My Name Is Bunny!, 2018, etc.) chief strengths. At first, Harry seems unsure why he assaulted the senator, but that ambiguity isn’t ambivalence—like the electorate of which he is a microcosm, he’s seething with anger. The author masterfully allows that contempt and confusion to cohabitate within the story. Budd’s character is the one misstep—he’s drawn hyperbolically into a cartoon caricature, especially conspicuous during a grim sex scene. However, that lack of sensitivity is only so obvious precisely because it’s such a stark departure from the thoughtfulness of the rest of the book.

A rollicking, funny, surprisingly thoughtful sendup of the current climate of political discontent.

Pub Date: March 28, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-950437-27-6

Page Count: 202

Publisher: Adelaide Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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