n imaginative but unconvincing satire about presidential candidates.

The Man without Qualities

A satirical novel tells the story of a man whose modest social experiment becomes a major political movement.

At 70 years old, George Haskel has just retired from a lifetime of teaching German literature. An American since the age of 5, George nevertheless still finds the United States and its people incomprehensible: a nation in the constant pursuit of money, celebrity, and a vague desire to be found interesting. He devises a plan: “So when I retired, it struck me that it might be fun, in a kind of screwy way, to construct a story about myself as an infinitely dull person, and see what would happen if I were to interact with other people on that basis.” After a trial run leads to a sexual encounter in Mexico, George decides to go after bigger fish: the presidential candidates running for office in America. He manages to disrupt a Hillary Clinton rally, asking the room: why bother? The crowd turns on the candidate, and she undergoes a meltdown that ends her political career. George than embarks on forming the Dullness Institute, an organization that attracts millions of members, including a cadre of celebrity patrons like Susan Sarandon, Philip Roth, and Bill Maher, and sets his sights on the White House. The title references the unfinished Robert Musil novel of the same name, a favorite of George’s that the reader catches him reading from time to time. Berman (Coming to Our Senses, 2015, etc.), a talented writer, creates an attractive comic tone that carries the reader along. Even so, the author’s satire isn’t as biting as he wants it to be. It isn’t that he pulls punches—he doesn’t—but his central political complaint (“What can any candidate do for us at this point in American history?”) fails to convince the reader, particularly in the midst of an election when the various candidates are distinct from one another in terms of philosophy, platform, and personality. Furthermore, while George represents many things— contrarianism, fatalism, apathy, disdain—dullness isn’t one of them, which undermines Berman’s whole conceit. The author’s diagnosis of society feels simplistic; his prescription for its improvement remains unclear.

n imaginative but unconvincing satire about presidential candidates.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9883343-5-9

Page Count: 176

Publisher: The Oliver Arts & Open Press

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2016

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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