OFF TRACK

A Vancouver-based wholesaler’s life takes a nosedive after his best friend kicks the bucket at the peak of his physical, emotional and financial success.

  Aaron Canducci was born to a Jewish mother and a Catholic father, predisposing him to an acceptance of mysticism and various faiths. Consequently, he’s a very spiritual guy. And it’s a good thing, too, considering his wife has all but abandoned him for her job in New York; major changes are at hand in the distribution company he owns; and his successful, seemingly healthy best friend, Hy Rosen, has just died in his middle age, leaving behind his family and wealth. When Hy visits Aaron from the other side in a dream, he confirms the existence of the afterlife with a secret message Aaron must pass along to Hy’s wife. Aaron obsesses over the meaning of the message but can’t seem to find time to decode it amid his struggles to overcome his drinking problem, betting on horse races at the Bookie Joint, visiting his psychic shrink friend for therapy sessions, volunteering with the Salvation Army and warding off the mob. All of this occurs before Aaron learns that his wife has been hiding a lesbian lover from him for four years, his daughter was raped more than two years ago and there’s a secret, dangerous branch of his family he’s not sure he should get involved with. And then there’s Aaron’s struggle to return to the dating scene after 25 years of marriage. Spevakow crams so many threads into this ambitious, fast-paced novel that it’s difficult to pin down the main plotline or relate to the characters. Most of them lack distinguishing characteristics, so mobsters seem more passive-aggressive than ruthless and Aaron is so even-keeled that his spirituality might as well be complacency. The robotic-sounding dialogue doesn’t help. As Aaron’s daughter unloads her sexual past on him, he jokes, “You could make me a strong drink. No, I’m just kidding. You know I’m not supposed to drink.” Still, Aaron’s many exploits intersect in a web of harrowing misadventures that are impossible to stop reading, most notably his dealings with gangster Darius Singh, the man responsible for Aaron’s first drink, at age 14, that would lead to most of his adult problems.   A compelling story of spirituality, emotional desolation and forgiveness whose characters could use some life.  

 

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2009

ISBN: 978-1449009915

Page Count: 223

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2012

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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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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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