The Little Suicides


Guest’s first novel follows one man’s journey across continents and out of an ordinary life.
Mitch Nevin hasn’t heard from his best friend, Mark Reddox, in four months; as it turns out, neither has Mark’s own wife, Kiyomi. Mitch, a lifelong resident of Canada who has been abroad only once, is poring over communications from Mark. Unlike Mitch, Mark is a world traveler. He spent his youth backpacking from place to place, once writing to Mitch: “All travel undertaken for adventure is in fact a little suicide. Every journey begun without a set schedule or return ticket is an attempt to separate the umbilical cord that ties us to life, as we know it (ha ha), and propel us into the infinite, the endless expanse of gray ocean, or, if you are theologically inclined, into either a trance of clouds or a lake of fire. I expect that I’ll be committing these little suicides until… well, until I die.” Apparently abandoning his little suicides, Mark settled in Japan, marrying, fathering a child, divorcing, remarrying and becoming a father again. Mitch, whose quiet pleasures consist of photography, golf and the clutter in his studio, receives dispatches from Mark over the years as Mitch leads a thoroughly conventional life with his own wife and their dog in the suburbs. Now that Mark is missing, Mark undertakes detective work from Canada, but that can only go so far—until the sale of some of his photography allows him to fund a trip to Japan, where Mark lived for 20 years, and eventually to the Philippines, where Mark disappeared. In Japan, Mitch finds that Riku, Mark’s first child, is in a coma and may not recover. His family is reeling in Mark’s absence. Mitch traces Mark to a city in the Philippines that is a hot spot of sex tourism. In his search for his friend, Mitch befriends Vera, a woman working as an escort who makes him feel like no one, not even his own wife, has been able to do in years. Finally, Mitch traces Mark to a Christian mission for the care of impoverished children. What he finds there challenges his image of Mark as a seasoned world traveler with a life worth envying. Guest’s characters are easy to identify with, even when their circumstances are alien; he treats the domestic melodrama of a beloved dog’s death with the same gravity he uses to describe a young man in an interminable coma. Despite the wild chain of coincidences that leads Mitch to Mark, the book stays grounded and realistic; the unlikely doesn’t seem unbelievable. On top of a compelling narrative and tidy prose, Guest offers keen insight into the dynamics of male-female relationships, the conflicts between different cultures, and the contrast between aspirations and reality.

As much a philosophical novel as a travel story, Guest’s first book is well worth a read.

Pub Date: March 31, 2014

ISBN: 978-1497419964

Page Count: 252

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2014

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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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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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