THE GOOD REMAINS

Adroitly told, but never quite demonstrates its relevance.

Second-novelist Power (Crawling at Night, 2001) proves resolutely that the South will never rise again.

The Virginia hamlet of Ball’s Bluff is pretty much the last place you’d expect to find a Dickensian Christmas party, and the author’s choice of said party as the climactic moment toward which her story stutter-steps seems arbitrary, though it works well enough. The people testifying in these pages are all connected in some fashion to the hospital (site of the party) and its resident neonatologist/unreconstructed rake, Dr. C.R. Ash. Among them are C.R.’s good friend and fellow doctor Pendleton, his fearful secretary Betty, and teeny-bopper Candy Striper Kirsten, who just gave birth (in the hospital bathroom) to a baby she didn’t know she was carrying. Although they rattle on about their own troubled lives, everyone also seems to have something to say about C.R., generally to his detriment. C.R. himself, the last scion of an old and honored family, is more attached to his bachelorhood than to just about anything; he also drinks bourbon like water and might well have made a mistake that killed one of the babies under his care. The story’s main purpose is to provide a stage upon which C.R. can pontificate, cajole, bemoan and generally chew the scenery to shreds. Much as the other characters try to make their voices heard, the novel belongs to him and on those terms succeeds. He’s a wonderful character. But his overpowering presence also makes every other element seem like window-dressing. Even the Lost Cause, a mandatory subject in any good southern tale, raises its vainglorious, preening head primarily so the author can make a none-too-subtle contrast with the cookie-cutter suburban New South, which provides C.R. with a never-ending number of opportunities to hold forth on the differences between his mother’s real honey ham and the lump of sugar-glazed death sold in modern supermarkets.

Adroitly told, but never quite demonstrates its relevance.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-8021-1720-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2002

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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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MAGIC HOUR

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Sisters work together to solve a child-abandonment case.

Ellie and Julia Cates have never been close. Julia is shy and brainy; Ellie gets by on charm and looks. Their differences must be tossed aside when a traumatized young girl wanders in from the forest into their hometown in Washington. The sisters’ professional skills are put to the test. Julia is a world-renowned child psychologist who has lost her edge. She is reeling from a case that went publicly sour. Though she was cleared of all wrongdoing, Julia’s name was tarnished, forcing her to shutter her Beverly Hills practice. Ellie Barton is the local police chief in Rain Valley, who’s never faced a tougher case. This is her chance to prove she is more than just a fading homecoming queen, but a scarcity of clues and a reluctant victim make locating the girl’s parents nearly impossible. Ellie places an SOS call to her sister; she needs an expert to rehabilitate this wild-child who has been living outside of civilization for years. Confronted with her professional demons, Julia once again has the opportunity to display her talents and salvage her reputation. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love, 2004, etc.) is at her best when writing from the girl’s perspective. The feral wolf-child keeps the reader interested long after the other, transparent characters have grown tiresome. Hannah’s torturously over-written romance passages are stale, but there are surprises in store as the sisters set about unearthing Alice’s past and creating a home for her.

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-46752-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

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