This seemingly cynical family tale offers redemption in unexpected places.

OUR 13TH DIVORCE

A literary novel explores more than a dozen mostly failed relationships, a family’s quest for happiness, and the hope of salvation. 

Set on a family farm in rural Georgia, this tale revolves around Jude and her first husband, Buddy Owen, “king of the bad-luck blues,” and their nervous adult son, Harold, who bears the scars of his parents’ failed marriages. Buddy, fresh from his fifth broken marriage, moves into the condo behind Jude’s house and secretly plots to make her fall in love with him again, even though he claims he and Harold are not the kind of “men who beg for miracles.” When Harold brings his high-strung, agyrophobic (afraid of crossing roads), and acerbic fiancee home for Christmas, the family must confront its checkered, courthouse-and-altar-strewn past. The engagement marches on even as Harold’s squeamish fiancee finds a mutilated farm dog and runs away, stealing his car. The novel steps into the past to examine Harold’s first love as well as his parents’ various love affairs. It also looks candidly at the 60-year relationship between Harold’s self-sacrificing grandmother and her husband, who suffers from dementia and verbally abuses her. The periphery is filled with eccentric, broken characters, like Buddy’s brother (who is one of Jude’s later husbands), who fears he will suffer a heart attack if he tries to cross the county line. The story’s clever banter serves as comic relief for its otherwise heavy tone (“ ‘Because it’s no contest that the bad things Harold learned over the years, he learned from you.’ ‘Who said anything about a contest?’ ‘I said it’s no contest’ ”). Cashion (Last Words of the Holy Ghost, 2015, etc.) keeps his touch light when exploring the issues between Buddy and Jude as they dive headfirst into questionable, often absurd relationships with lovers and spouses they later regret. This leaves the idea of Buddy and Jude an obvious, almost inevitable possibility. Bittersweet, understated observations about love and happiness tie together the episodic love affairs of Jude, Buddy, and Harold: “We each insisted that we were happy,” and “I felt what I imagined love must feel like because there was no language to account for it.” The prose boasts poetic descriptions: “The pecan trees were dressed in Spanish moss so thick they looked like great-grandmothers wearing grey dresses.”

This seemingly cynical family tale offers redemption in unexpected places. 

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-60489-184-3

Page Count: 204

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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