A worthy addition to a genre pioneered by writers like Cormac McCarthy and Matt Bell: the post-human pastoral.

NEAR HAVEN

Sirois' promising debut is an apocalypse novel with a twist.

It's 1987, and Tom Beaumont, an apprentice boat builder in Maine, is coming to grips with impending catastrophe: a comet is streaking toward Earth, and its impact, less than a year away, is said to be both unavoidable and fatal for humanity. Civil society has begun collapsing: long-distance communication is faltering; food and fuel are growing ever scarcer; many townsfolk have fled, the infirm have died, and suicide is epidemic. Tom is a thoughtful loner and a skeptic—a "shomee"—but he's too hermitlike and too taciturn to be much of a revolutionary. The book is full of action scenes, as Tom encounters ragtag paramilitaries, a corrupt and venal church, feral animals, a band of pirates...and all this mayhem takes place on home ground. Sirois' intriguing innovation is to keep the focus hyperlocal: Tom strays as rarely as possible from his seaside village or from the dockside workshop where he lives. He's either going to die from the impact or ride it out, but either way he'll be here. The result is a book that focuses not on geopolitics or conspiracy theories or the truth/untruth of the prediction of doom but on Tom's elemental interactions with the land, the weather, marauders, his few remaining friends, and the wreckage of civilization. During the lean, cold winter he even comes, unexpectedly, to appreciate this simpler, more violent, and brutish world. Survival turns out to be the full-time, full-commitment job he's yearned for: "Books and televisions and washing machines were all just filters, ways he had kept the world at a distance. But the world, ignorant of these barriers, was still there." The prose can be florid, and there are occasional plot gaps or clichés, but when Sirois focuses on creating a chronicle of and meditation on life in a postindustrial hellscape, his book impresses.

A worthy addition to a genre pioneered by writers like Cormac McCarthy and Matt Bell: the post-human pastoral.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9973260-4-8

Page Count: 329

Publisher: Belle Lutte Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 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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