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SNOW IN AUGUST

The eighth novel by New York journalist/now New York Post editor Hamill (Loving Women, 1989; the memoir A Drinking Life, 1994, etc.) finds him as readable as ever. In postwar working-class Brooklyn, Irish Catholic Michael Devlin, 11, is obsessed with comics, worships Captain Marvel, and wonders why shouting SHAZAM! doesn't turn him into a superhero. His naivetÇ is crucial to the story, it turns out, since this slice-of-life tale metamorphoses at the finish completely and unexpectedly into fantasy. Michael and two friends are in Mr. Greenberg's candy store when psychopathic bully Frankie McCarthy, 17, comes in, beats up friendly ``Mister G,'' and drops the cash register onto the owner's head, putting him into a coma. Although Michael is a witness, the code of the Irish goes against being a squealer. As his widowed mother Kathleen reminds him, Judas was the world's worst informer. Frankie is detained by the police and lets Michael know that he'll get his face carved up if he turns rat. For good measure, Michael is beaten up by Frankie's gang, the Falcons, who break his leg. After he's released from the hospital, he's attacked again, along with Kathleen. She still won't let Michael rat on Frankie, but she plans to move to Bay Ridge. Meantime, Michael has become the goy who works on the Jewish sabbath for a very poor rabbi. While the rabbi teaches him Yiddish in return for Michael's correcting his own English, the two become richly involved in the career of Jackie Robinson, the first black player to crack the majors. The rabbi also tells Michael about Rabbi Loew's golem, the Captain Marvel of the Jews. When Michael hears that Frankie McCarthy has got a pistol and intends to kill him, he decides to summon up a superhero of his own. A slow-moving opening, with Hamill as earnestly humorless as ever, but the time-warp element and terrific descriptions will appeal to many.

Pub Date: May 7, 1997

ISBN: 0-316-34094-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1997

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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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