AMERICAN PIE

Southern gothic and soap-opera hype collide exuberantly in West's vivid if hokey third novel (She Flew the Coop, 1994, etc.): a tale of three sisters and their plucky Grandma fighting to dispel a family curse in a small Tennessee town. When Jo-Nell, the youngest of the three McBroom sisters, is near death as the result of a train accident, the family thinks it's just another manifestation of the curse that has dogged them for three generations. Originally from Texas, most of the McBrooms now live in Tallulah, Tennessee, where everybody knows everybody else's business. Freddie, the middle sister, left Tallulah and headed for California after being expelled from medical school; now, she interrupts a whale-watching visit to Baja, Mexico, with fellow scientist-husband Sam to fly to Jo-Nell's bedside. Grandma Minerva, meanwhile, fears that the old family curse has been revived. Eleanor, the eldest, is so obsessed with crime that she cannot go out alone, and picks up widows from the Senior Citizen Center before she drives to the store. As the four women alternate recollections of the past with accounts of what happens when they're all together again, the plot moves at a hyperventilating pace. Minerva recalls her Texas childhood, her marriage, the tragic deaths of two of her children, the move to Tallulah, where—such is the power of the curse—husband Amos dies and daughter Ruth marries Freddie McBroom, is widowed, marries again only to be abandoned, then commits suicide. Jo-Nell, regarded locally as a slut, has also been unlucky in love; and Freddie finds herself still attracted to her own first love, Jackson, a pediatrician with a similarly checkered family history. When Minerva dies, the sisters, having finally faced the past, are ready to move on. Colorful, larger-than-life characters strut and stew with zest across an equally colorful terrain—in a tale that grips in spite of itself. ($35,000 ad/promo; author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 1996

ISBN: 0-06-018357-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

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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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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