A silly trifle but clever and fun.

JANE AUSTEN IN BOCA

The title says it all. Cohen, a humanities professor and author of several books of scholarly nonfiction, offers a kosher teacake of a first novel loosely fashioned after Pride and Prejudice and elucidating the social mores of genteel Jewish retirees in Boca Raton.

Cohen’s Boca are the condominium complexes full of retirees primarily from the Northeast. Best friends May Newman, Flo Kliman, and Lila Katz are widows in their 70s living quietly in Boca Festa, a typical Boca complex, not as shabby as some nor as grand as the most exclusive. Then Carol Newman, a contemporary suburban yenta cum Emma, sets up her placid, passive mother-in-law May with Norman Grafstein, a wealthy retiree, while financially strapped Lila encourages the attentions she receives from the crudely foolish but relatively well-off Hy Marcus. That leaves Flo, a former librarian at the University of Chicago, who claims to be uninterested in romance. Sophisticated, acerbic Flo is soon sparring with Norman’s friend Stan Jacobs, the recently widowed, somewhat dour English professor at the local university who is too overtly critical of the Boca lifestyle for Flo’s taste, though she’s not above mocking the foibles of her fellow residents herself. Enter Mel Shirmer, a divorced former journalist, too charming by half, who woos Flo while he considers buying a condo. The transparent plot, a follow-the-numbers exercise in Austen-copying, concerns the ups and downs of the widows’ romances. To say all ends happily gives nothing away. The story works best as social commentary—who knew, for instance, that Jews of a certain generation were Anglophiles who chose British last names like Howard and Irving as first names for their sons? The British and New Jersey accents here sometimes collide, but the Boca community is certainly Austenian in its rituals, rules of etiquette, and daily rites, such as shopping (Loehmann’s), home decorating (lots of turquoise), and entertaining (lots of food).

A silly trifle but clever and fun.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-312-29088-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2002

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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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