The balance is off here, Wallace’s comic gifts wasted. What felt frothy and fun in the first books turn leaden when a...

MADAM PRESIDENT

In this sequel to Eighteen Acres (2010) and It’s Classified (2011), her political romps about America’s fictional first woman president, political insider and The View co-host Wallace goes darker but not deeper, centering her story on the White House reaction to a major terrorist attack on American soil.

The novel opens shortly after bombs have been detonated in five American cities, including Washington D.C., causing an unknown but probably high number of casualties. Moderate Republican Charlotte Kramer faces this crisis well into her second term as the country’s 45th president. She and husband Peter have reconciled. She has even hired his former mistress, Dale, as her press secretary. Charlotte’s former chief of staff, Melanie, is now secretary of defense; she's on a visit to still–war-torn Iraq. Once the bombings are confirmed, meetings follow press statements that follow meetings on how to handle the press and how to address the public. There are arguments by Melanie (seemingly as a stand-in for the author) for military readiness, revenge, and "enhanced interrogation," as well as a behind-the-scenes look at internal White House politics, all clearly drawn from the author’s experience as communications director for President George W. Bush. Meanwhile, despite the crisis, Charlotte, Dale, and Melanie each deal with their own personal issues. Charlotte obsesses about the flaws in her marriage. Secretly 20 weeks pregnant, Melanie wonders how she’ll balance motherhood with her career and worries about being cut from Charlotte’s inner circle. Dale is in a new relationship with Melanie’s close friend Warren, a saintly war veteran now serving as a political consultant to Charlotte, but she worries that he's more committed than she is, partly because she’s not completely over Peter; word of the bombings interrupts their attempt to rendezvous.

The balance is off here, Wallace’s comic gifts wasted. What felt frothy and fun in the first books turn leaden when a national tragedy is less important than who slept with or back-stabbed whom.

Pub Date: April 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4767-5689-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Emily Bestler/Atria

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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