An amusing, occasionally sobering look at how evil can spring from unexpected wells.

THINGS GRAK HATES

A humorous debut novel about the surprising consequences of one man’s intense distaste for olives.

Grak, a moody, misunderstood member of a group of egalitarian nomads, suffers from a “severe and unusual hatred of olives.” That, in turn, means he doesn’t like Lago, the tribe’s cook, who adds the fruit to all the dishes he makes. To get back at Lago, Grak utters a small and seemingly innocent lie. Yet that spur-of-the-moment falsehood leads to other lies, and soon Lago is banished after being falsely accused of poisoning the group’s food. Before long, Grak, through a combination of cleverness and dumb luck, installs himself as the group’s leader—a previously vacant and unnecessary position. He then proceeds to manipulate his friends, seek vengeance on his perceived enemies and generally turn what was once a happy, thriving tribe into a starving, dysfunctional group ruled by a despot with a shaky grip on reality, as revealed in Grak’s increasingly unhinged internal monologue. Story’s quirky novel commendably shows how easily evil can take root and flourish. The setting may be pre-modern, but Grak’s behavior is immediately recognizable as the wounded posturing of the schoolyard bully. This thoroughly unlikable protagonist is driven not by a thirst for power or riches but by his own inability to trust others. Early on, he wonders: “What is this deviousness? Was she a part of this? Did they plan it together…out of their mutual resentment toward me?” Even when his tribe is at the brink of ruin and he’s publicly executing those who dare to question him, Grak sees himself as a victim. Friendly overtures are misread as insults, while offhand remarks are evidence of sinister plots against him. Often, the results of these misunderstandings are blackly comic. Grak’s downfall is inevitable (if a long time coming), but what’s more troubling is that even though he eventually loses power and sees the error of his ways, he has taught those around him how to use fear and violence as tools of subjugation.

An amusing, occasionally sobering look at how evil can spring from unexpected wells.

Pub Date: Nov. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0990749301

Page Count: 334

Publisher: Paper Newt

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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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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