Cascades of absurdist, knowing nonsense about the writing profession.

THE HOUSE OF WRITERS

After societal, economic, and technological collapse rocks Britain, authors stubbornly ply their (mostly obsolete) trade crammed into a high-rise in the north.

In this debut novel, set in the mid-21st century, digital culture has proved ruinous for writers.  First, publishers dictated that only the simplest, bottom-line pablum be produced. Second, a socioeconomic meltdown, precipitated by widespread tech failures (bad screws in the motherboard cooling fans), left Britain a wasteland, roamed by artificial intelligence appliances gone feral and starving digi-pets. While the principal economy and infrastructure center on the lone surviving big business, a Scottish call center (itself just a minor subsidiary of a U.S.-based, Rupert Murdoch-like multinational), authors stubbornly pursue their craft and egos in a communal high-rise, sometimes for just a couple of paying readers. Cal McIntyre, a narrator perpetually working—or not—on a “meta-novel” called The House of Writers, compiles formidable lists of silly, nonexistent books and offers a tour of the building, with different genres on each floor. There are name-dropping details of a “Farewell Authors Conference”; lists of fictitious sexual positions; descriptions of flash-in-the-pan literary movements seeking relevance (the gender-bending Anti-cis-heteronormativists); and entire catalog entries oriented toward Scottish shortbread. Real-life, dust-jacket celebrities (Ian Rankin, J.K. Rowling, Jodi Picoult, Zadie Smith, Jonathan Franzen, graphic designer Chip Kidd) blend with the invented scribblers and cranks, who still follow their muses and remain vain and self-centered loons, despite conditions wherein their products serve practically no purpose. Comedian and writer Spike Milligan would certainly approve of Glasgow author Nicholls’ novel, a piece of literary goonery (or, to Yanks, Monty Pythonism) that lacks a particularly strong plot. As with Monty Python and The Goon Show, the audience either gets the dense barrages of absurdist humor or not. At one point, Jesus even returns, but, after being largely ignored by House of Writers occupants, the Savior departs, leaving an angry, obscene note behind (though Cal theorizes the message could have been one author’s idea of a practical joke). The encouraging theme beneath the satire seems to be that, no matter what, writers and writing (and all the attendant aggravations and pretensions) will persist. Perhaps Cal’s meta-novel will turn out to be the Best Book That Ever Existed. 

Cascades of absurdist, knowing nonsense about the writing profession. 

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-944697-06-8

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Sagging Meniscus Press

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2017

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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