It’s all there. The wonderful language. The leisurely pace. The rich detail. There’s just no end. Readers will be left to...

21

THE UNFINISHED TWENTY-FIRST NOVEL IN THE AUBREY/MATURIN SERIES

A lovely and welcome oddity: the much-loved author’s final fragment, titled simply by its position in the canon.

Correctly deciding that it would be impossible if not sacrilegious to hire a writer to complete successfully a work no more than a quarter finished, thereby placing one of the 20th-century’s finest prose stylists among the ranks of the undead that populate the thriller and crime shelves in the bookstores, Norton has instead taken the high road and released this tantalizing beginning as O’Brian left it. What his devoted readers will find is a lightly edited printing of the typescript, each page faced by a photocopy of the manuscript page from which it had been transcribed, and then, when the typed pages stopped, the handwritten pages alone. The effect is tantalizing, touching, and powerful. The story takes up with newly minted Admiral Jack Aubrey and his bosom friend and colleague, scholar-spy Dr. Stephen Maturin, rounding Cape Horn on Surprise, headed for the mouth of the River Plate, where Aubrey is to transfer his flag to a new squadron headed for new assignments off the Cape of Good Hope. Days of superbly calm sailing take them to the Argentine republic where, thanks to murderous local political storms, their welcome is cool if not hostile, a situation eased splendidly by the arrival of the Papal Nuncio, a supremely charming African polyglot who is also Aubrey’s illegitimate son, the happy result of an ancient liaison. When the squadron at last arrives under the command of the windbaggy peer Lord Leyton, it brings trouble in the form of Maturin’s old Trinity classmate Randolph Miller, a scoundrel who is also Lord Leyton’s cousin. There is a Confrontation and a duel, and then all sail for Africa by way of St. Helena. And there the story stops, ending in a superb afterword by Richard Snow.

It’s all there. The wonderful language. The leisurely pace. The rich detail. There’s just no end. Readers will be left to their dreams.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2004

ISBN: 0-393-06025-X

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2004

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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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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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