A sparsely detailed but engrossing dystopian tale with well-rounded lead characters.

MALL

In Palmer-Baker’s debut fantasy, an elementary school teacher stumbles into an apparent other world rife with pleasures—but it’s a realm some people are trying to escape.

Sara is at a typical shopping mall with her generally indifferent husband, Carl. When Carl brazenly flirts with a female clerk, Sara, desperate to get away from him, leaves through an unmarked door. Though she still seems to be in a mall, she eventually learns it’s simply Mall, which is another world entirely. After Mall guards detain Sara for “amoking”—their variation on running amok—she gets an assigned “Mental Health Practitioner” in Nona. The MHP is shocked that Sara claims ignorance of Mall’s various regulations, such as administering drugs to neutralize negative feelings. Fascinated by the woman from Outside, Nona helps her avoid unwanted attention by securing for her an ID, customary flashy Mall attire, and employment. Sara, looking for a way home, zeroes in on Junkers, a group of people anonymously wreaking havoc, whose apparent goal is making it Outside. But with a loveless marriage awaiting, Sara may prefer staying right where she is. Nona, meanwhile, starts questioning some of what Mall’s Code forbids, like sex with certain people. There’s a discernible parallelism between Sara and Nona. While Nona ultimately sees Mall’s shortcomings, Sara sees its appeal, including that of a potential partner in lieu of Carl, who actively avoids sex with her. Despite abundant discussions on sex, both hypothetical and realized, there are no erotic scenes. Rather, Palmer-Baker showcases characters’ frosty attitude toward sex, one that Sara discovers has little to do with love. The frequent use of dialogue unfortunately comes at the expense of the particulars of the environment, like creepy “moving mannequins” that the narrative mentions only sporadically. Nevertheless, the author amps up the story with notable threats against Sara and Nona; if either has ties to Junkers, they could face Judgment (with a prisonlike sentence) or Mem-wipe, in which they’d lose some or all memories. 

A sparsely detailed but engrossing dystopian tale with well-rounded lead characters.

Pub Date: May 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9998425-5-3

Page Count: 282

Publisher: Del Sol Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2020

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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