The Man Who Gave Away His Organs

TALES OF LOVE AND OBSESSION AT MIDLIFE

In Levine’s (Catch and Other Poems, 2015, etc.) stark nine-story collection, characters with seemingly ordinary lives endure loss, both palpable and transcendental.

Ed Kramer, the title story’s protagonist, is an unassertive man who for all intents and purposes is content with his wife, June, and son, Jeremy. But when Ed decides to become a repeat donor, starting with his bone marrow, he gives away more than tangible parts. His unequivocal happiness with the press and public admiring his “self-sacrifice” ultimately affects his family. Similarly, in “Tlac,” Deborah and Harry Ashe grieve in vastly different ways after the death of their son, Cal T., from a car accident. Deborah’s remembrance of her son is almost a religious experience, talking in a recovery group about the sights, sounds, and smells of Cal T. Not surprisingly, Harry’s contrasting despondency puts more than a strain on their relationship. Fortunately, not all of Levine’s tales are bleak. The opening “But Is It Art?” is a riot, in which Jade Frommer stuns her stepdad, Arnold, and mom, Norell, with a performance piece highlighted by audio recordings of her parents—things they might not necessarily want other people to hear. The subsequent “Jeopardy,” in the same vein, has only the appearance of despair. It tells the tale of college professor Jake Dubovsky, caring for ailing mother Edith, and a family devastated by her abusive husband. But there’s definitely hope: mother and son share elation in watching Edith’s favorite show, Jeopardy!, with host Alex Trebek representing “everything her husband had never been.” A couple of stories tiptoe close to surrealism without stepping completely over the line. In “Love and Death at the Golden Bear Recreation Center,” for example, Sommers, while swimming laps, mentally recites eulogies for people who aren’t dead though soon may be. Likewise, the narrator in “The Second-Tuesday-of-the-Month Irving Horowitz Support Group” meets with men of the same name. But it’s Ervin (“close enough”) who elbows his way into the narrator’s mind and home life, strangely knowledgeable about the mysterious Irving. Most stories, like “Art?,” have open-to-interpretation endings, but none is more jarring than the closing tale, “Becoming Burt Reynolds,” about the rise and fall of a celebrity look-alike. Strong characters and stories that, whether bitter or sweet, unquestionably elicit an emotional response.

Pub Date: July 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59266-104-6

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Capra

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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