At 500-plus pages, more panorama then drama.

MAD GIRLS IN LOVE

Sequel to the much darker Crazy Ladies (1990), West’s fourth is a marathon romp through Southern froth.

After leaping from the roof of husband Albert’s dime-store, Dorothy Hamilton McDougal weathers confinement in an asylum and electroshock by corresponding with First Ladies. Daughter Bitsy clobbers husband Claude with a package of frozen baby backribs (he tried to drown her in a slow-draining sink), then flees to the Gulf Coast with baby Jennifer. Dorothy’s sister, Clancy Jane, holds down the ancestral abode at 214 Dixie in Crystal Falls, Tenn. A former hippie, Clancy is married to physician Byron. Next door in Dorothy’s brick house, son Mack, a Vietnam vet and amputee, lives in redneck bliss with Earlene. From 1972 to 1994, the Hamilton/MacDougal women strive in vain to escape their collective destiny: bumbling and/or skirt-chasing men. Parental favoritism and sibling distrust, traceable to redoubtable ancestor Miss Gussie, continue. Robbed of custody by Claude’s snooty family, Bitsy nevertheless becomes an off-and-on babysitter for Jennifer. Dorothy returns from the funny farm with shocked-white hair and eyebrows singed bare. Albert has divorced her and married a cashier from the store. Clancy starts a gourmet café, then moves to a remote mountain house. She replaces Byron, driven off by her Buddhist scorched-earth school of interior décor, with proliferating cats. Along the way, her daughter, Violet, becomes a psychiatrist and enjoys the story’s only stable marriage. After an aborted engagement to a dentist, whose flagrantly awful family mires him forever, Bitsy acquires polish as the wife of New Orleans star cardiologist Louie. But his incorrigible yen for nubile nurses eventually compels her to flee to London, where she finally finds a trustworthy male. A wedding scene, in which Jennifer narrowly misses succumbing to the Wentworth syndrome of enabling ne’er-do-well husbands, brings the bloodlines and plotlines together in clichéd celebration of family craziness.

At 500-plus pages, more panorama then drama.

Pub Date: July 5, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-018406-X

Page Count: 544

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2005

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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