Morais writes with sensitivity and insight about the many ways American life challenges the Reverend Oda’s equanimity.

BUDDHALAND BROOKLYN

A gentle Buddhist priest from Japan is given the task of building a temple in the Little Calabria section of Brooklyn, and the results are both calamitous and sweet.

Before the move, Reverend Seido Oda had already lived a full and tragic life, having dealt with his father’s mental illness and his brother’s death by fire. He grew up in a remote and rural setting and, at the age of 11, was apprenticed to the monks in the Headwater Sect (a fictional creation of Morais) at a local Buddhist temple. Despite his personal and familial difficulties, for 30 years Oda lives a relatively placid life, until his superior requests that he travel thousands of miles to oversee the building of a new temple in the strange urban landscape of Brooklyn. Once there, Oda comes in contact with a very American form of Buddhism, one in which he’s casually referred to as “Rev” or “the Reverend O.” Oda understandably has difficulty adapting to the exigencies of his new life. He meets Laura, a shellacked blonde, who is into New Age crystals and “channeling the Buddha’s voice during evening prayer.” He also encounters Mr. Dolan, who’s been giving a series of lectures on Buddhism based in part on Buddhism for Dummies. The greatest surprise awaiting Oda is a relationship that he develops with Jennifer, whose casual demeanor belies an engaging intellect (she has a doctorate in Italian and has been translating Boccacio) and a sincere interest in Buddhist texts. They begin a sexual relationship that comes as a surprise more to Oda than to Jennifer. Oda finds he has to balance the delicacy of his feelings for Jennifer with his much more pragmatic connection to Mr. Symes, the hardheaded American businessman who’s a major fundraiser for the temple.

Morais writes with sensitivity and insight about the many ways American life challenges the Reverend Oda’s equanimity.

Pub Date: July 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6922-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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SUMMER SISTERS

The years pass by at a fast and steamy clip in Blume’s latest adult novel (Wifey, not reviewed; Smart Women, 1984) as two friends find loyalties and affections tested as they grow into young women. In sixth grade, when Victoria Weaver is asked by new girl Caitlin Somers to spend the summer with her on Martha’s Vineyard, her life changes forever. Victoria, or more commonly Vix, lives in a small house; her brother has muscular dystrophy; her mother is unhappy, and money is scarce. Caitlin, on the other hand, lives part of the year with her wealthy mother Phoebe, who’s just moved to Albuquerque, and summers with her father Lamb, equally affluent, on the Vineyard. The story of how this casual invitation turns the two girls into what they call "Summer sisters" is prefaced with a prologue in which Vix is asked by Caitlin to be her matron of honor. The years in between are related in brief segments by numerous characters, but mostly by Vix. Caitlin, determined never to be ordinary, is always testing the limits, and in adolescence falls hard for Von, an older construction worker, while Vix falls for his friend Bru. Blume knows the way kids and teens speak, but her two female leads are less credible as they reach adulthood. After high school, Caitlin travels the world and can’t understand why Vix, by now at Harvard on a scholarship and determined to have a better life than her mother has had, won’t drop out and join her. Though the wedding briefly revives Vix’s old feelings for Bru, whom Caitlin is marrying, Vix is soon in love with Gus, another old summer friend, and a more compatible match. But Caitlin, whose own demons have been hinted at, will not be so lucky. The dark and light sides of friendship breathlessly explored in a novel best saved for summer beachside reading.

Pub Date: May 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32405-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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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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