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BEACH MUSIC

The latest in Conroy's output of overwrought, overwritten family sagas (Prince of Tides, 1986, etc.): a sprawling, oversized beach read with the loftiest of intentions. Jack McCall is a wisecracking but tenderhearted travel/food writer with a painful past. After his beloved wife and high-school sweetheart Shyla leaps to her death from a bridge, he flees to Rome with their infant daughter, determined to raise her free from his and Shyla's oppressive southern heritage. You name it, Jack is running from it: a brutal, alcoholic father; an emotionally distant mother; four overbearing brothers (including a schizophrenic); boyhood friends turned enemies; and Shyla's parents, Holocaust survivors who never accepted their Catholic son-in-law and even blamed him for Shyla's suicide, though they desperately want to get to know their granddaughter. When Jack learns of his mother's impending death from leukemia, he returns to South Carolina for the first time in seven years, plunging nine-year-old Leah into a world she has known only through her father's eyes and stories, and finally forcing himself to wrestle with his own numerous demons. With zeal like that of his now-familiar swaggering protagonists, Conroy spins out of control once Jack and Leah leave Romehis all- encompassing sweep of the Holocaust, the Vietnam War, international terrorism, politics, religion, and the evils of Hollywood leaves little time for the bones of Jack's family drama or his sketchy romance with Ledare, another figure from his past. A real gift for storytelling emerges in spots, especially when Conroy sticks close to home, but eventually the overwhelming ``themes'' and cloying prose (hazelnut ice cream reminds Jack of ``smoke and ice and darkness'') sink the story like a ton of concrete. The Prince of Tides goes to EuropeConroy promises untold horrors and ecstasies, but delivers refractory, predictable, and occasionally entertaining southern fluff. (First printing of 750,000; Literary Guild selection; author tour)

Pub Date: June 28, 1995

ISBN: 0-385-41304-1

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1995

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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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FIREFLY LANE

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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