This clever mystery will particularly delight hard-core wordophiles—and send them scrambling for the dictionary.

Clarion Call of the Last Kallus

In Krass’ (Carnegie, 2011, etc.) novel, a National Security Agency assassin finds that things aren’t what they seem after he carries out orders to kill a fellow agent.

This story wraps a mystery in an enigma, cloaks it in allusion, and ties it up neatly in harebrained humor. K, an overly erudite killer who speaks and thinks in a nonstop stream of wisecracks, bons mots, and epigrams, begins to feel guilt over his career choice after his latest hit urbanely informs him as he lies dying, “I believe you’ve mistaken me for someone else, my good man.” This sense of disquiet is exacerbated when a man dressed as a nun in a Sally Field mask on a fat-wheeled mountain bike tells him that he is on the wrong side, supplying him with anagrams to back up his statement. After “The HEAD” (K’s “bobble-head” of a boss, whose syntax is reminiscent of Yoda’s) tries to kill him, K is finally convinced. He sets out on a journey to Wyoming, encountering a Shakespearean pornography shop, a Native American shaman who worships basketball legend Michael Jordan, earth-mother mysticism, as well as his tripped-out brother-in-law, his nagging sister, their adopted Shoshone daughter, and massive doses of self-doubt, existential ennui, linguistics lessons, and peyote. As K follows leads, including those fed to him by unlikely seers, soothsayers, prophets, and saviors, he discovers a plot that, quite literally, will shake the Earth’s foundations. Meanwhile, he also falls in love with a newscaster. The climax arrives in a complex amalgam of soul-searching, mysticism, psychedelics, and good old-fashioned action. Equal parts James Joyce, Franz Kafka, and Dave Barry, this farcical romp is packed with puns, literary references, anagrams, palindromes, and all manner of wordplay, including a lipogram—an obscure word game in which one avoids using a particular letter or group of letters. Krass manages to successfully juggle the book’s multiple levels while delivering dialogue that’s a series of one-liners—some intellectual, some aimed at the gut. At the same time, he skillfully moves the action along, maintaining tension and an overall sense of mystery, and wields a biting wit with such unique imagery as “tumbleweed eyebrows” and twisted, invented words, such as “alwaysthemore” and “lessunder.” Overall, it’s a well-plotted, intricate work filled with humor, insight, and adventure.

This clever mystery will particularly delight hard-core wordophiles—and send them scrambling for the dictionary.

Pub Date: June 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-692-43898-5

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Pajwood Farm

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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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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