The novel holds together surprisingly well considering the unusual genesis and process.

SPELLS

A NOVEL WITHIN PHOTOGRAPHS

A novel that was created by the author in response to a selection of images taken by five photographers from around the country.

A fascinating endeavor, documented at spellsproject.com, this is the book version of a project that has also been presented as a multimedia installation at an art gallery and in addition might become a film. Rock, a novelist (The Shelter Cycle, 2013, etc.), wrote to five different photographers asking them to send him images, then spun his own characters and plot from the connections he made among them. Parts of what results can seem like dreams, fantasies, fairy tales, or hallucinations, though the plotline itself is fairly clear and straightforward. Alex and Sonja, who have known each other since second grade, have arrived at an age of sexual awakening. Or at least Alex has, as he confesses his desire for Sonja to her friend Naomi, who lives in the house where her grandmother recently died. Sonja seems to feel drawn to Naomi more than she is to Alex. So, there is that triangle of relationships, interrupted by two strange occurrences—an older man in a suit becomes obsessed with Naomi, after dreaming about this young woman he had yet to encounter in life, and he confesses to Alex that he's been stalking her. (The man also carries on a conversation with a stranger via notes exchanged by carrier pigeon.) And Naomi’s grandmother has decreed in her will that Naomi will take a voyage to who knows where for who knows how long, leaving Alex and Sonja to share the house she has left. There is also an “I” who may not necessarily represent the author, a “you” who stands for Naomi, and a pair of bears who may or may not exist beyond the minds and fears of some characters but whose images have been captured on film. “The images are not merely illustrations for a pre-existent story, then, but the conditions and possibilities and limitations of how the storytelling preceded,” the author explains in “A Preface of a Sort.” “The images came first. One way to think of it is that the stories herein, and the larger story they become, were already embedded in the photographs.”

The novel holds together surprisingly well considering the unusual genesis and process.

Pub Date: May 9, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61902-900-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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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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Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s...

HOME FRONT

 The traumatic homecoming of a wounded warrior.

The daughter of alcoholics who left her orphaned at 17, Jolene “Jo” Zarkades found her first stable family in the military: She’s served over two decades, first in the army, later with the National Guard. A helicopter pilot stationed near Seattle, Jo copes as competently at home, raising two daughters, Betsy and Lulu, while trying to dismiss her husband Michael’s increasing emotional distance. Jo’s mettle is sorely tested when Michael informs her flatly that he no longer loves her. Four-year-old Lulu clamors for attention while preteen Betsy, mean-girl-in-training, dismisses as dweeby her former best friend, Seth, son of Jo’s confidante and fellow pilot, Tami. Amid these challenges comes the ultimate one: Jo and Tami are deployed to Iraq. Michael, with the help of his mother, has to take over the household duties, and he rapidly learns that parenting is much harder than his wife made it look. As Michael prepares to defend a PTSD-afflicted veteran charged with Murder I for killing his wife during a dissociative blackout, he begins to understand what Jolene is facing and to revisit his true feelings for her. When her helicopter is shot down under insurgent fire, Jo rescues Tami from the wreck, but a young crewman is killed. Tami remains in a coma and Jo, whose leg has been amputated, returns home to a difficult rehabilitation on several fronts. Her nightmares in which she relives the crash and other horrors she witnessed, and her pain, have turned Jo into a person her daughters now fear (which in the case of bratty Betsy may not be such a bad thing). Jo can't forgive Michael for his rash words. Worse, she is beginning to remind Michael more and more of his homicide client. Characterization can be cursory: Michael’s earlier callousness, left largely unexplained, undercuts the pathos of his later change of heart. 

Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s aftermath.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-57720-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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