An ungainly mishmash of stilted writing and inexplicable intrigues.

STAYING IN THE GAME

Russian spies hatch convoluted plots for ill-conceived reasons in this murky espionage yarn.

Red’s (Deception License, 2019) potboiler centers on Galina Ivanova, a Russian agent who longs to quit spying and have a baby. First, though, she honeytraps a U.S. senator’s horny son into having anal sex with her, by which contrivance she administers a poison that will kill him unless he flies to Moscow for the antidote. The Kremlin promptly takes him hostage. Galina then turns to her own private vendetta against Doruk, a Turkish intelligence officer and ex-lover who got her to betray Russia in a way that is never clarified. She considers shooting him. She rejects that method of revenge in favor of a byzantine plan to: 1) assist a Russian politician in clearing his name of treason allegations by 2) concocting a false charge of child molestation against him so he can be exonerated of it while 3) getting pregnant by the politician, before 4) having sex with Doruk, sending him pregnancy photos and implying the baby is his. Another subplot explores Doruk’s plan to put a bug in a target’s house by replacing all the pens at his bank branch with bugged pens in hopes that he will absentmindedly take one home. The feverish machinations undertaken by Red’s characters are certainly imaginative and even engrossing, and there are intricate scenes of tradecraft and neurolinguistic programming, which add psychological depth to some scenes. (To gain Galina’s confidence, Inga offers a long, Dostoyevskian backstory of how her narcissistic mother pushed her to become a concert pianist and then sabotaged her career.) But the supercomplex narrative may leave readers feeling like simpler expedients are available to achieve the characters’ ends or that the ends themselves do not merit so many sojourns down blind alleys. (In one bizarre scene, Galina sends her friend Olga hundreds of miles away to Baku to buy a book with a quote that Galina likes but doesn’t tell Olga which book to buy because she doesn’t remember the quote or the book’s title or author, merely the bookshop where she saw it; Olga dutifully returns with books but not the right one.) The novel’s ill-edited prose is often baffling, especially when sex is discussed. (“Galina was able to infect Paul with the poison through bleeding resulting from the deformation in the anal relationship.”) Red sticks lots of aphorisms into the text from writers as far afield as Nietzsche, Kafka, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Janis Joplin, but they seldom illuminate the novel’s themes. For example, the author quotes Einstein, saying, “You have to learn the rules of the game and then to play better than anyone,” which, if authentic, would be the most vacuous truism the physicist ever uttered. The result reads like a le Carré novel merged with Bartlett’s, as rewritten by Jerry Springer and Google translated into Russian and back. Many readers will tire of this game well before the novel stops.

An ungainly mishmash of stilted writing and inexplicable intrigues.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-949872-25-5

Page Count: 131

Publisher: Cosmo Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

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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 kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy,...

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME

Britisher Haddon debuts in the adult novel with the bittersweet tale of a 15-year-old autistic who’s also a math genius.

Christopher Boone has had some bad knocks: his mother has died (well, she went to the hospital and never came back), and soon after he found a neighbor’s dog on the front lawn, slain by a garden fork stuck through it. A teacher said that he should write something that he “would like to read himself”—and so he embarks on this book, a murder mystery that will reveal who killed Mrs. Shears’s dog. First off, though, is a night in jail for hitting the policeman who questions him about the dog (the cop made the mistake of grabbing the boy by the arm when he can’t stand to be touched—any more than he can stand the colors yellow or brown, or not knowing what’s going to happen next). Christopher’s father bails him out but forbids his doing any more “detecting” about the dog-murder. When Christopher disobeys (and writes about it in his book), a fight ensues and his father confiscates the book. In time, detective-Christopher finds it, along with certain other clues that reveal a very great deal indeed about his mother’s “death,” his father’s own part in it—and the murder of the dog. Calming himself by doing roots, cubes, prime numbers, and math problems in his head, Christopher runs away, braves a train-ride to London, and finds—his mother. How can this be? Read and see. Neither parent, if truth be told, is the least bit prepossessing or more than a cutout. Christopher, though, with pet rat Toby in his pocket and advanced “maths” in his head, is another matter indeed, and readers will cheer when, way precociously, he takes his A-level maths and does brilliantly.

A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy, moving, and likely to be a smash.

Pub Date: June 17, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50945-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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