More jaded and demanding than most American domestic tragicomedies, this novel packs a surprising emotional wallop, raising...

COUPLE MECHANICS

The title perfectly captures the tone of French author Alard’s second novel, which examines a marriage in crisis as if it were a working, or perhaps broken, machine.

In 2003, techie Juliette and her husband, Olivier, are the Parisian equivalents of Brooklynites, raising their two adored children in a formerly rough but gentrifying Parisian neighborhood where they are surrounded by a circle of like-minded, urbane friends. Then Olivier announces that for three weeks he’s been sleeping with a socialist politician he met in his work as a reporter. Olivier says he wants to stay married but needs time to break things off with emotionally fragile Victoire. Juliette hasn’t forgotten that days after their first kiss, Olivier betrayed her by meeting another woman; he and Juliette didn’t get back together for three years. Looking back, it would be easy to blame Olivier for his pattern of betrayal, but as he and Juliette struggle to repair their relationship, overtly simple explanations become tangled in the complexity of their connection to and resentments against each other. Olivier has acted abominably and remains difficult to trust, but Juliette—despite a history that includes her father’s abandonment when she was 5, an abortion, and a rape—refuses to let anyone consider her a victim. As much as she wants to fall to pieces, she doesn’t. Alard records the couple’s evolution moment to moment—internal thoughts, endless conversations, and a range of telling gestures—in obsessively minute detail. For Juliette, sex becomes an expression of feelings but also a tool. Olivier backslides with phone calls and meetings that he at first hides from Juliette as he gradually disengages from Victoire. Page by page, the marriage’s survival is uncertain.

More jaded and demanding than most American domestic tragicomedies, this novel packs a surprising emotional wallop, raising questions about the natures of passion and marriage within the context of early-21st-century French politics with references to France’s Muslim veil controversy and Simone de Beauvoir.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59051-731-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s...

HOME FRONT

 The traumatic homecoming of a wounded warrior.

The daughter of alcoholics who left her orphaned at 17, Jolene “Jo” Zarkades found her first stable family in the military: She’s served over two decades, first in the army, later with the National Guard. A helicopter pilot stationed near Seattle, Jo copes as competently at home, raising two daughters, Betsy and Lulu, while trying to dismiss her husband Michael’s increasing emotional distance. Jo’s mettle is sorely tested when Michael informs her flatly that he no longer loves her. Four-year-old Lulu clamors for attention while preteen Betsy, mean-girl-in-training, dismisses as dweeby her former best friend, Seth, son of Jo’s confidante and fellow pilot, Tami. Amid these challenges comes the ultimate one: Jo and Tami are deployed to Iraq. Michael, with the help of his mother, has to take over the household duties, and he rapidly learns that parenting is much harder than his wife made it look. As Michael prepares to defend a PTSD-afflicted veteran charged with Murder I for killing his wife during a dissociative blackout, he begins to understand what Jolene is facing and to revisit his true feelings for her. When her helicopter is shot down under insurgent fire, Jo rescues Tami from the wreck, but a young crewman is killed. Tami remains in a coma and Jo, whose leg has been amputated, returns home to a difficult rehabilitation on several fronts. Her nightmares in which she relives the crash and other horrors she witnessed, and her pain, have turned Jo into a person her daughters now fear (which in the case of bratty Betsy may not be such a bad thing). Jo can't forgive Michael for his rash words. Worse, she is beginning to remind Michael more and more of his homicide client. Characterization can be cursory: Michael’s earlier callousness, left largely unexplained, undercuts the pathos of his later change of heart. 

Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s aftermath.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-57720-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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