SURVIVAL

A promising debut collection of 15 stories, set in Alaska or concerned with it. The pieces focus mainly on contemplative women who come to terms with loneliness and distance and display the quiet courage required for survival. In the title story, the narrator, 18 years in Alaska, remembers her earlier self (``When I was 20, a skinny girl from Minnesota, I had the great romantic notion that I wanted to live in Alaska'') when she's confronted with Bonnie-who, wanting ``to get down to the essence of life,'' withdraws to an island wilderness and freezes to death. Luck and circumstance often mean the difference between survival and disaster, as in ``Marks,'' where Pam clips salmon fins in a factory and reconstructs the brutal murder of Roni, an acquaintance who chose to survive by dancing nude in a club and living a reckless thrill-seeking life- until one day she took a plane ride with the wrong man. Other stories deal with the idea of Alaska as a place to find a new self: in ``The Lady with the Sled Dog,'' a man interviews a woman who ``has mushed her team over a thousand miles of frozen mountains, through blizzards and darkness,'' and, finally seeking out her ``perfect white world,'' the man is changed in small but irrevocable ways. Still other takes are evocative and moving: ``Volcano,'' about a woman alone after a nearby eruption; ``Snowblind,'' where a woman stateside waits for her Alaskan lover, only to discover he's a deluded romantic (``You know, even if we're not there, we need Alaska to be there''); and the comic ``Why I Live at the Natural History Museum,'' which manages to transport Eudora Welty wholesale to Alaska. There's nary a clinker among these: the collection bears delicate, closely observed witness to a place and to some of the voices that come to terms with it. A writer to watch.

Pub Date: April 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-918273-84-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1991

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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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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