An inventive farce waylaid by excessive absurdity and a sprawling cast.


Starkman’s (Great Places to Learn, 2006, etc.) debut novel features a postal carrier named Cleve and a coterie of eccentric neighbors who attempt to solve a series of bizarre local mysteries.

There is no normalcy in Eaton; the small Midwestern town is overrun with the most eccentric of eccentrics, including an octogenarian who trains her dogs to make tea and a corrupt, diminutive mayor whose quarterly parties would make Pope Alexander VI blush. There is, however, a relative status quo in Eaton, which is disrupted when an absurd foreign conflict divides the town, and a sniper seems bent on snuffing out its letter carriers. Cleve’s levelheaded investigation into these dramas form the crux of the novel, and from it unfolds some rather sharp observations about civil responsibility, small-town prejudices and the widespread jingoism that results from U.S. military campaigns. It is in these allegorical moments that the rollicking plot finds its stride and comes closest to justifying its large, zany cast. Yet, as Cleve digs deeper into some shady connections, the once-enjoyable eccentricities of the cast and the oddities of their town begin to distract as much as they delight. Starkman is overly attentive to minor characters and relies on unnatural exposition, testing readers’ patience in the novel’s second half. This unfortunately makes waste of some great dialogue and distracts from what should have been the novel’s best asset: Eaton and its people. When Cleve finally connects the dots, readers might think that the author is stretching to do the same considering the many digressions of the novel and its bloated cast. At its heart, this is a whimsical and funny novel with the potential to both amuse readers with wild characters and to keep them intrigued with an inventive plot. Unfortunately, the two amusements often seem mutually exclusive, as the comedy bounds between local laughs and global happenings without finding a good regional balance.

An inventive farce waylaid by excessive absurdity and a sprawling cast. 

Pub Date: Dec. 24, 2011

ISBN: 978-1467992305

Page Count: 276

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2012

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The years pass by at a fast and steamy clip in Blume’s latest adult novel (Wifey, not reviewed; Smart Women, 1984) as two friends find loyalties and affections tested as they grow into young women. In sixth grade, when Victoria Weaver is asked by new girl Caitlin Somers to spend the summer with her on Martha’s Vineyard, her life changes forever. Victoria, or more commonly Vix, lives in a small house; her brother has muscular dystrophy; her mother is unhappy, and money is scarce. Caitlin, on the other hand, lives part of the year with her wealthy mother Phoebe, who’s just moved to Albuquerque, and summers with her father Lamb, equally affluent, on the Vineyard. The story of how this casual invitation turns the two girls into what they call "Summer sisters" is prefaced with a prologue in which Vix is asked by Caitlin to be her matron of honor. The years in between are related in brief segments by numerous characters, but mostly by Vix. Caitlin, determined never to be ordinary, is always testing the limits, and in adolescence falls hard for Von, an older construction worker, while Vix falls for his friend Bru. Blume knows the way kids and teens speak, but her two female leads are less credible as they reach adulthood. After high school, Caitlin travels the world and can’t understand why Vix, by now at Harvard on a scholarship and determined to have a better life than her mother has had, won’t drop out and join her. Though the wedding briefly revives Vix’s old feelings for Bru, whom Caitlin is marrying, Vix is soon in love with Gus, another old summer friend, and a more compatible match. But Caitlin, whose own demons have been hinted at, will not be so lucky. The dark and light sides of friendship breathlessly explored in a novel best saved for summer beachside reading.

Pub Date: May 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32405-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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