A finely crafted, Anaïs Nin–centered fantasy with unexpected depths.

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ANAÏS NIN AT THE GRAND GUIGNOL

Levy (The Glittering World, 2015) imagines a lost diary from a legendary author, set amid the decadence and eroticism of Paris’s premier horror theater.

In 1933 Paris, Anaïs Nin languishes in her marriage to her husband, Hugo, only feeling alive when in the arms of her lover, Henry Miller, or writing in the pages of her extensive diary, which documents her “mirror life,” as her therapist terms it. When Henry’s wife, June—who’s captured Anaïs’ heart, perhaps even more than Henry has—leaves for New York City, Anaïs seeks solace in the grotesque, ribald productions of the Grand Guignol, about which she writes: “The Theatre du Grand-Guignol is nothing if not an ideal night out for the amorous, lovers who innocently enter the small Pigalle black box only to cling to each other in paroxysms of laughter or fright, the emotionally heightened scenarios blossoming like poisonous flowers upon the stage.” There, she meets the actress Paula Maxa, the so-called “Maddest Woman in the World,” who bears a fleeting resemblance to the absent June. In Maxa, the writer finds a new obsession—one to help fill the loneliness that has haunted her all her life—but for the actress, there is another: Monsieur Guillard, who stalks the streets of the theater district dressed in black. Soon, he begins to haunt Anaïs’ dreams—and then her reality. Levy’s prose is ornate and styled to evoke the emotions of his narrator and her sensuous milieu: “My dark desires, they have long carried a vast and primitive voluptuousness capable of opening doors between places I once thought locked forever.” With it, the author manages to effectively conjure his setting, but the illusion dissipates in the dialogue, which reads as more contemporary in style than it should. Still, the novel is phantasmagoric and appealingly melodramatic, and deeply rooted in Anaïs’ personal demons. The novel’s conclusion is surprisingly poignant, as well. Readers looking for a concentrated cocktail of Années folles splendor will find that this short erotic novel quenches their thirst.

A finely crafted, Anaïs Nin–centered fantasy with unexpected depths.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59021-717-7

Page Count: 159

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2019

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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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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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