Taforo-Murphy is a born storyteller with a poet’s ear and eye, making every line of her hilarious, biting, and vengeful book...

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Ann Mary, Contraception and the Pope of Rome

A debut novel about a religious family that will pack a real wallop for Catholics (or ex-Catholics) of a certain age.

Taforo-Murphy takes readers back to post–World War II San Francisco and the struggling Kenny family. The story is about Ann Mary Kenny, a devout Catholic, and narrated in retrospect by her middle child, Theresa. This is a family that’s slowly being torn apart by the issue of contraception—or rather the prohibition against it, as dictated by the holy mother church. It’s an age-old bind for married women: to celebrate the connubial act (as the church—and one’s husband—encourages) but then to be terrified that it may result in yet another mouth to feed. One funny and sad chapter has a bewildered Ann Mary trying to follow along while a doctor explains in detail the “rhythm method,” the only birth-control option that the church approves. Henry, the non-Catholic father, becomes more frustrated, angry, and distant, and Ann Mary goes slowly, literally, insane as Theresa watches. The book is an unapologetic polemic, and conservative Catholics may be enraged, but Taforo-Murphy gives no quarter. There are good people in this story, such as Father Capwell, the pastor of St. Cyril’s parish, who “really was a kind man, a man with the unselfconscious sweet innocence of an angel, a rather dim angel, one settled into an only minimally reflective goodness.” But there’s the rub: this old, feckless priest is the best of the bunch. As Taforo-Murphy portrays it, the church as an institution is rule-ridden, absolute, and smugly, unshakably certain, even if it costs a woman’s sanity. Parochial school also gets its lumps here, as it’s apparently designed to instill a lively guilt. Young Theresa herself, aiming in her own twisted way to save her mother from hell, becomes a moral fanatic, a confessional junkie. The Mission Band, a tag team of visiting priests, preaches sermons that would make any Puritan look wishy-washy. Thus are people ground down with the best of intentions in this novel. An afterword reveals that young Theresa’s story was based on Taforo-Murphy’s own, so readers will know why she pulled no punches.

Taforo-Murphy is a born storyteller with a poet’s ear and eye, making every line of her hilarious, biting, and vengeful book a pleasure to read.

Pub Date: May 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-578-17273-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Green Isles Press

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2016

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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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