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WICKETT’S REMEDY

A fine novel very much in the American vein, and a quantum leap forward for the gifted Goldberg.

The 1918 influenza pandemic is the background for this absorbing successor to Bee Season (2000).

Irish-American Lydia Kilkenny moves up from her “Southie” (i.e., South Boston) neighborhood after marrying timid medical student Henry Wickett. When Henry forsakes his studies and returns to clerical drudgery while developing a health-giving elixir (the eponymous Remedy), Lydia senses trouble—but she agrees to concoct a pleasant-tasting recipe. America enters World War I, Henry tries and fails to enlist, and dies when an “unseasonable flu” strikes Boston—having first formed a partnership with entrepreneur-distributor Quentin Driscoll (who has other plans for Wickett’s Remedy). First returning to her Southie family, Lydia watches numbly as friends and relatives die, volunteers at a local hospital, then works as an untrained nurse at Gallups Island in Boston Harbor, where doctors study the virulent influenza strain by injecting it into volunteers: inmates from nearby Deer Island Naval Prison. Goldberg’s opulent narrative traces the fulfillment of Lydia’s deepest fears, and numerous other voices chime in: those of soldiers and sailors sworn to defeat the Kaiser; ordinary citizens enduring both the war and the epidemic; the numerous dead (rendered as acutely dramatic marginal commentary); and revelations of the history of “QD Soda” (the soft drink Driscoll derived from Lydia’s recipe), its founder’s pathetic decline and his successor’s evasive criminality. Only the QD Soda passages (of which there are far too many) misfire in this rich historical re-creation whose energy and ingenuity evoke memories of E.L. Doctorow’s classic Ragtime, Steven Millhauser’s Pulitzer-winner, Martin Dressler, and Thomas McMahon’s forgotten picaresque mini-masterpiece McKay’s Bees.

A fine novel very much in the American vein, and a quantum leap forward for the gifted Goldberg.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2005

ISBN: 0-385-51324-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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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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THE RUMOR

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Hilderbrand’s latest cautionary tale exposes the toxic—and hilarious—impact of gossip on even the most sophisticated of islands.

Eddie and Grace Pancik are known for their beautiful Nantucket home and grounds, financed with the profits from Eddie’s thriving real estate company (thriving before the crash of 2008, that is). Grace raises pedigreed hens and, with the help of hunky landscape architect Benton Coe, has achieved a lush paradise of fowl-friendly foliage. The Panciks’ teenage girls, Allegra and Hope, suffer invidious comparisons of their looks and sex appeal, although they're identical twins. The Panciks’ friends the Llewellyns (Madeline, a blocked novelist, and her airline-pilot husband, Trevor) invested $50,000, the lion’s share of Madeline’s last advance, in Eddie’s latest development. But Madeline, hard-pressed to come up with catalog copy, much less a new novel, is living in increasingly straightened circumstances, at least by Nantucket standards: she can only afford $2,000 per month on the apartment she rents in desperate hope that “a room of her own” will prime the creative pump. Construction on Eddie’s spec houses has stalled, thanks to the aforementioned crash. Grace, who has been nursing a crush on Benton for some time, gives in and a torrid affair ensues, which she ill-advisedly confides to Madeline after too many glasses of Screaming Eagle. With her agent and publisher dropping dire hints about clawing back her advance and Eddie “temporarily” unable to return the 50K, what’s a writer to do but to appropriate Grace’s adultery as fictional fodder? When Eddie is seen entering her apartment (to ask why she rented from a rival realtor), rumors spread about him and Madeline, and after the rival realtor sneaks a look at Madeline’s rough draft (which New York is hotly anticipating as “the Playboy Channel meets HGTV”), the island threatens to implode with prurient snark. No one is spared, not even Hilderbrand herself, “that other Nantucket novelist,” nor this magazine, “the notoriously cranky Kirkus.”

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Pub Date: June 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-33452-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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