Affecting and inventively funny despite its cumbersome length.



An alcoholic confronts a work crisis and the sting of loneliness in this debut novel.

Heald Brown works at the Chicago Regional Census Center in a secretive division called the Census Coverage Measurement, devoted to meticulously gathering and zealously protecting data about the city’s population. One day, he comes into work to learn that 37 pages of the most sensitive, classified information—specifically protected by a regulation called Title 13—has mysteriously gone missing. Deputy Director Elina Flohard declares a state of emergency, intemperately warning that such a security breach could presage the very dissolution of society, and author Ferro humorously captures her hyperbolic alarmism. Soon after, Heald’s immediate boss, manager Gilbert Tabin, inexplicably disappears after a meeting with Flohard, leading some to believe he was shoved down a laundry chute. Meanwhile, Heald grapples with a claustrophobic, solitary existence, which he somewhat numbs with out-of-control alcohol consumption. He also falls madly in love with co-worker Janice Torres, but both his addiction and his inclination toward privacy frustrate hopes of romantic success. Then his grandmother is badly injured in a car accident and subsequently diagnosed with cancer, compelling him to re-examine his life of unfulfilled promise and solipsistic desperation. Ferro’s work is an eclectic mélange of parts—some farcically absurd and others more sober. For example, in one poignant moment, poetically expressed, Heald, while comforting his dying grandmother, wonders about the possibility of an afterlife: “Once she was gone, that would be it, and there would be no report from the other side—no telegraph or wire call from an ocean liner on the other side of world to let the others back at port know it had safely made passage.” However, the plot’s pace is enormously slow, and it often gets sidetracked by narrative detours that unnecessarily add to the book’s page count. Also, the author’s pastiche of styles, while impressive, can be disorienting as it juxtaposes the manically satirical with the quotidian. Still, there are flashes of comic inspiration, and Heald is a deftly drawn protagonist.

Affecting and inventively funny despite its cumbersome length.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-941861-46-2

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Harvard Square Editions

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2017

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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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