A fabulously gripping sailor’s yarn.

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THE SHANTYMAN

With eloquent accuracy, Spilman’s novel captures the life of a 19th-century sailor.

Bill Doerflinger is a young archivist wishing to record old sea shanties sung by a few aging sea captains and their mates. In October 1938, he travels to the Staten Island home of 85-year-old Capt. George “Georgie” Anderson, who recounts a fantastical tale. In 1870, at age 17, he sailed from New York to Australia and back in the medium clipper Alhambra. The journey begins under the command of Capt. Josiah Adams, who leads a motley crew of complex characters. The most fascinating of the common seamen is an enigmatic drunk named Jack Barlow. When Capt. Adams falls ill and dies, the ship faces all manner of turmoil, from rumblings of mutiny to the terrifying roar of a hurricane. As tensions on board increase, Barlow proves far more astute than he first appears. Meanwhile, the naïve Georgie is beginning to find his “sea legs” with the help and hindrance of his crew. The novel carefully charts the young man’s intellectual and moral development. His initial sense of awe, along with the precarious nature of life at sea, is captured with an effortless grace: “When the sun was shining, the endless progression of the Southern Ocean graybeards was breathtaking—rolling mountainous peaks, thirty and forty feet high and long, with low valleys between. The wave tops were ten feet of boiling foam while the waves themselves were mighty beasts seemingly ready to devour us, just about to overwhelm the ship, until the fine lady Alhambra lifted her skirts and rose up.” A profound understanding of nautical terminology and procedure is also evident, yet the author is careful not to confuse readers who don’t know a “crojack” from a “spanker.” Eager to educate, the book also contains a comprehensive glossary, a rigging diagram, and an essay on the history of the sea shanty. Spilman’s colorful, well-researched novel will enthrall both sailing enthusiasts and landlubbers.

A fabulously gripping sailor’s yarn.

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2015

ISBN: 978-0994115232

Page Count: 238

Publisher: Old Salt Press

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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Laymon moves us dazzlingly (and sometimes bewilderingly) from 1964 to 1985 to 2013 and incorporates themes of prejudice,...

LONG DIVISION

A novel within a novel—hilarious, moving and occasionally dizzying.

Citoyen “City” Coldson is a 14-year-old wunderkind when it comes to crafting sentences. In fact, his only rival is his classmate LaVander Peeler. Although the two don’t get along, they’ve qualified to appear on the national finals of the contest "Can You Use That Word in a Sentence," and each is determined to win. Unfortunately, on the nationally televised show, City is given the word “niggardly” and, to say the least, does not provide a “correct, appropriate or dynamic usage” of the word as the rules require. LaVander similarly blows his chance with the word “chitterlings,” so both are humiliated, City the more so since his appearance is available to all on YouTube. This leads to a confrontation with his grandmother, alas for City, “the greatest whupper in the history of Mississippi whuppings.” Meanwhile, the principal at City’s school has given him a book entitled Long Division. When City begins to read this, he discovers that the main character is named City Coldson, and he’s in love with a Shalaya Crump...but this is in 1985, and the contest finals occurred in 2013. (Laymon is nothing if not contemporary.) A girl named Baize Shephard also appears in the novel City is reading, though in 2013, she has mysteriously disappeared a few weeks before City’s humiliation. Laymon cleverly interweaves his narrative threads and connects characters in surprising and seemingly impossible ways.

Laymon moves us dazzlingly (and sometimes bewilderingly) from 1964 to 1985 to 2013 and incorporates themes of prejudice, confusion and love rooted in an emphatically post-Katrina world.

Pub Date: June 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-932841-72-5

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Bolden/Agate

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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