If you can get past the false modesty of the narrator, whose allusions to his discarded fame only make him sound smug,...

HOTEL HONOLULU

“We’re multistory,” explains Buddy Hamstra, owner of the Hotel Honolulu, describing in a word not only the setting but the narrative structure of Theroux’s tale of a burned-out, middle-aged writer seeking salvation at the edge of paradise.

In the frame tale, profane, effusive Buddy, as pleased to be able to say that his manager wrote a book as he is to retire to his mansion, drink recklessly, and screw his masseuse, hires the nameless narrator to run his down-at- heels hotel. The manager, meantime, seduces Sweetie, daughter of the hotel’s resident prostitute, Puamana Wilson, who bore Ku‘uipo—Hawaiian for “sweetheart”—27 years ago after a brief encounter with a mainlander reputed to be JFK. When Sweetie gets pregnant, the manager marries her. (Condoms seem unknown in fecund Hawaii, where couples routinely engage in unprotected sex until they produce exactly one child.) Leaving the management of the hotel to his capable staff, he then settles down contentedly with his pretty, semiliterate wife and his precocious daughter Rose to watch his guests, whose stories burst forth like seeds from an overripe papaya. We meet Hobart Flail, eternal pessimist, whose doomsaying keeps ringing true; poisonous Madam Ma, whose flagrant attention-seeking takes a fatal turn; Jasmine the hooker, whose men pay her to leave; and socialite Mrs. Bunny Arkle, whose men pay her to stay. Eight-year-old Rose sagely reminds us that, while all happy stories are the same, unhappy stories are all different. So death is a frequent theme, as is incest—Puamana is raped by her father, Buddy’s wife Pinky by her uncle, and Mahina, an adopted daughter in search of her real father, is inevitably molested by him. What to make, then, of the narrator’s paternal fascination with Rose?

If you can get past the false modesty of the narrator, whose allusions to his discarded fame only make him sound smug, there’s wonder on every floor of the Hotel Honolulu.

Pub Date: May 9, 2001

ISBN: 0-618-09501-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2001

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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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