ROUSTABOUT

First-novelist Chalfoun has relied on her own experiences as a circus worker to create this decidedly unglamorous view of a circus orphan's life—a bleak tale with occasional sparks of originality and insight glimmering from beneath the ashes. Mat hardly remembers her earliest years, before her mother took her along to live in an Airstream trailer with Enis, a circus crewman. Then, when Mat was nine, her mother fled, leaving Mat with her lover, who promptly began sexually abusing the little girl. Regularly raped by the man she calls ``Pa,'' Mat grows up unkempt and uneducated among the travelling performers, finding happiness only in her work as a roustabout, swinging a sledgehammer to secure the stays of the circus tent, apparently unaware of how different her life is from those of the townies she holds in such contempt. At the age of 15, though, Mat is ``rescued'' by Jayson, the 35- year-old ringcrew chief, who moves her into a sleeper with Al, a transvestite cook happy to act as surrogate mother, and puts her to work in the costume truck with Tante, a burn-scarred crone whose own terrible past throws an even deeper shadow over Mat's grim life. Somehow the teenaged Mat dares to hope for romance and domesticity, even as Jayson, now her lover, casually betrays and abuses her. Barely able to spell out a simple love letter, Mat cannot imagine a life outside this strange, peripatetic world, yet she must learn how to escape its no-win rules if she is to survive at all. Grim stuff, clearly, but Chalfoun's characters are not easy to forget. One wonders where the author's unflinching eye will light next. (Film rights to Twentieth Century Fox; $40,000 ad/promo; author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-06-017297-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1996

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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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MAGIC HOUR

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Sisters work together to solve a child-abandonment case.

Ellie and Julia Cates have never been close. Julia is shy and brainy; Ellie gets by on charm and looks. Their differences must be tossed aside when a traumatized young girl wanders in from the forest into their hometown in Washington. The sisters’ professional skills are put to the test. Julia is a world-renowned child psychologist who has lost her edge. She is reeling from a case that went publicly sour. Though she was cleared of all wrongdoing, Julia’s name was tarnished, forcing her to shutter her Beverly Hills practice. Ellie Barton is the local police chief in Rain Valley, who’s never faced a tougher case. This is her chance to prove she is more than just a fading homecoming queen, but a scarcity of clues and a reluctant victim make locating the girl’s parents nearly impossible. Ellie places an SOS call to her sister; she needs an expert to rehabilitate this wild-child who has been living outside of civilization for years. Confronted with her professional demons, Julia once again has the opportunity to display her talents and salvage her reputation. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love, 2004, etc.) is at her best when writing from the girl’s perspective. The feral wolf-child keeps the reader interested long after the other, transparent characters have grown tiresome. Hannah’s torturously over-written romance passages are stale, but there are surprises in store as the sisters set about unearthing Alice’s past and creating a home for her.

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-46752-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

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