A startling look at race relations in the American South.


A very old, white Southern man recounts a fantastical story about his life with a slave companion in this debut novel.

Fifty-year-old Mordecai “Tree” Weissman lives in Atlanta, not far from a river where Confederate and Union soldiers battled during the Civil War. While volunteering at the Jewish Home for the Elderly, he meets an eccentric Southern gentleman, Benno Johnson, who grew up in Atlanta. Benno, a charming raconteur, regales Mordecai with stories of his youth—which include tales of his slave, Lucius Cincinnatus Jones. Mordecai is understandably incredulous, as it’s currently 2017. He asks the home’s resident psychiatrist, Dr. McBurney, about it, and he can’t conclusively rule out the possibility that Benno’s stories are true. Author Lieberman devotes the bulk of his extraordinarily imaginative debut novel to Benno’s anecdotal account of his life with Lucius (and the strange manner of Lucius’ death). It soon comes to light that Benno is only about 90 years old and spent nearly his entire life with Lucius, who died about three years before. When Benno’s account gets into the details of Lucius’ death, it becomes even more peculiar, but also more engrossing. He says that Lucius once fled an angry Ku Klux Klan rally into a swamp, where he was able to communicate with animals and had a particularly lively exchange with two frogs. Mordecai soon notices that Benno only ever talks of Lucius in the terms of friendship and love: “He’d say things, and you would hear them, and you wouldn’t know who you were supposed to be rooting for. You wouldn’t know if he and Lucius were on the same side, the same team, or whether that was a morally perverse thought, practically implausible, and shameful to have even thought.”  In the end, Lieberman leaves it tantalizingly unsettled as to just how much of Benno’s remembrance is real and how much is apocryphal. Although Benno’s autobiography seems like fabulist insanity on its face, he delivers it all with placid self-assurance, and Mordecai is a perfectly drawn straight man for the old man’s wild tales. The younger man predictably disbelieves them, but he also gets pulled deeply into the narrative, hungry to hear more. Throughout, Lieberman’s prose is confidently informal and anecdotally intimate in a way that courts the reader’s trust. The way that he presents Benno’s story, readers will likely share Mordecai’s discomfort with it, as the old man’s telling seems tainted by the stain of racism. Some may also be uncomfortable with the fact that this anti-slavery novel attempts to offer a morally nuanced account, thinking that it whitewashes the gruesomeness of bondage. However, the book is a deeply original meditation on race and friendship. It’s impossible to gainsay Benno’s devotion to Lucius, and their loving camaraderie does raise provocative questions about the nature of devotion. This inaugural effort is rather brief—short enough to be considered a novella—which makes its artistic and philosophic depth all the more impressive.

A startling look at race relations in the American South.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-984186-52-2

Page Count: 211

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2018

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The years pass by at a fast and steamy clip in Blume’s latest adult novel (Wifey, not reviewed; Smart Women, 1984) as two friends find loyalties and affections tested as they grow into young women. In sixth grade, when Victoria Weaver is asked by new girl Caitlin Somers to spend the summer with her on Martha’s Vineyard, her life changes forever. Victoria, or more commonly Vix, lives in a small house; her brother has muscular dystrophy; her mother is unhappy, and money is scarce. Caitlin, on the other hand, lives part of the year with her wealthy mother Phoebe, who’s just moved to Albuquerque, and summers with her father Lamb, equally affluent, on the Vineyard. The story of how this casual invitation turns the two girls into what they call "Summer sisters" is prefaced with a prologue in which Vix is asked by Caitlin to be her matron of honor. The years in between are related in brief segments by numerous characters, but mostly by Vix. Caitlin, determined never to be ordinary, is always testing the limits, and in adolescence falls hard for Von, an older construction worker, while Vix falls for his friend Bru. Blume knows the way kids and teens speak, but her two female leads are less credible as they reach adulthood. After high school, Caitlin travels the world and can’t understand why Vix, by now at Harvard on a scholarship and determined to have a better life than her mother has had, won’t drop out and join her. Though the wedding briefly revives Vix’s old feelings for Bru, whom Caitlin is marrying, Vix is soon in love with Gus, another old summer friend, and a more compatible match. But Caitlin, whose own demons have been hinted at, will not be so lucky. The dark and light sides of friendship breathlessly explored in a novel best saved for summer beachside reading.

Pub Date: May 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32405-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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