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SPIDER LOVE SONG AND OTHER STORIES

Only a writer who knows how closely bound are heartbreak and resilience could write stories as emotionally stirring as these.

An original and delightfully off-kilter debut collection about searching for a sense of belonging.

Set mostly in Chinese American communities in California, some of Au's stories explore the cost of immigration and its toll on families. In "The Richmond," for example, Mei laments being singled out by the cafeteria lady, who speaks differently to her than to her white classmates. She can't understand why her parents love their neighborhood, why her mother counsels her to accept that someone will always "label us as immigrants as if that were a bad thing." But just 11, Mei also doesn't yet understand the famine and genocide her parents fled, the haunting image of "Mama's childhood friend on her knees...as a soldier towered over her." Elsewhere, Au's characters find themselves adrift because of age ("This Is Me"); ambition ("Little Harlot"); or sexual orientation ("Louise"). In the devastating "Spider Love Song," Sophie is emotionally lost after her parents vanish. She carries on living with her grandmother, cooking as her mother taught her, still wearing an increasingly smelly elephant costume that she donned the day her parents disappeared. "We are waiting," Sophie tells a woman who tries to lure her away, a sign of strength rather than weakness. Au writes with keen understanding of children's need to see the good in their flawed parents; many stories turn on moments of children applying the balm of their imaginations to painful situations. In "Wearing My Skin," when Shelly inadvertently learns that her father didn't die, that he abandoned them, she doesn't lash out at her mother for lying. Instead, she imagines making a giant collage of her parents where they "stand next to each other...holding up each other's glossy dime-store dreams."

Only a writer who knows how closely bound are heartbreak and resilience could write stories as emotionally stirring as these.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-946724-20-5

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Acre

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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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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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

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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