WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE

An ever-so-gentle coming-of-age story—a saccharine Last Picture Show—that almost smothers the evident talent of its author in an overdose of pop culture. At 24, Gilbert Grape is the sentimental favorite in Endora, Iowa, a good boy still bagging groceries in the local market. But he's not happy: he's mired in an affair with the insurance agent's wife, and outraged by the supermarket chains and burger franchises that are devouring Endora's soul, as well as the loyalties of Gilbert's friends. Most of all, Gilbert hates being put-upon by his grotesquely mediocre family: fat Momma, who eats and sleeps in her chair by the TV; saintly Amy, who's given up everything for Momma except her Elvis fetish; insufferable Ellen, a typically self-involved teenager; Larry, the vanished brother; Janice, the psychologist-cum-stewardess. The only gem in the lot is Arnie—the retarded brother whose 18th birthday is approaching—and who functions both as plot device and provider of tear-jerking dialogue. Every time Arnie does something retarded, like hiding in the town water tower or disrupting a parade, Gilbert bails him out. He enjoys playing the white knight, but as Becky, the new girl in town, intuits, Gilbert has yet to learn Life's Deeper Lessons—such as how to say goodbye, how to love, and how to cry. Suffice it to say, he does all three things by the end of this tale. But despite Arnie's eventful birthday, Momma's expiration, and her cremation in the hated family house, there's hardly any serious effect on the reader's emotions or intellect. Too predictable and too dependent on pop culture to achieve indelibility—but a first novel that does manage to impress with its playwright author's sense of form and craft. Hedges turns a nice phrase; in fact, all that's lacking here are content and nerve.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-671-73509-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1991

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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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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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