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SAMUEL BECKETT IS CLOSED

A complex but emotionally effective tribute to the Irish author.

A shape-shifting fictional tribute to the novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett (1906-89), borrowing its structure from one of his works.

In 1976, the elliptical, Nobel-winning writer started an unfinished piece, “Long Observation of the Ray,” that proposed a method of writing around nine “themes” in a highly precise way, prescribing the number of sentences in recurring sections. Like Oulipo and other fussy literary organizational schemes, the end product risks becoming cold and abstruse, but Coffey (The Business of Naming Things, 2015, etc.) generates a decent amount of warmth adapting the concept and weaving alternating Beckett-themed story threads, distinguishable by different fonts. Among the strands: a critical essay on Beckett’s work; an unnamed narrator trying to imagine a story that’ll help his lover fall sleep; a fictionalized story of Beckett bemusedly attending a 1964 Mets double-header at Shea Stadium (“There’s a lot of futility in this game,” Beckett notes); and narratives of post–9/11 terrorism, from reports on treatment of Gitmo prisoners to recollections of the 2015 Paris attacks. Coffey doesn’t labor to make each section connect in obvious ways, but over the course of the book the fragmentary pieces help construct an overall defense of Beckett as more of a moral author than he’s given credit for. The abstract fatalism that defined works like Waiting for Godot was shaped by Beckett’s experience of World War II, Coffey argues, pushing him to contemplate both a sense of defeat and the need to press on after catastrophe, “an aesthetic credo that secured the moral ground enabling art to continue after Auschwitz.” Deep familiarity with Beckett's work isn’t essential to appreciate Coffey’s, but an affinity for Beckett’s worldview and gamesmanship helps; Coffey sustains a dark, contemplative mood but leaves a few cracks for humor and optimism to enter.

A complex but emotionally effective tribute to the Irish author.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-94486-959-5

Page Count: 160

Publisher: OR Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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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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