An unusual but poised mix of noir and town-and-gown novel, bolstered by Stone’s well-honed observational skills.

DEATH OF THE BLACK-HAIRED GIRL

The death of a star student at an upper-crust university unsettles friends, faculty and family in a piercing novel from veteran novelist Stone (Fun With Problems, 2010, etc.).

Stone’s eighth novel introduces student Maud Stack as a privileged young woman enveloped by a cloud of danger and collapse. The manicured, Ivy-ish campus is rife with halfway-house residents, mentally ill homeless people and addicts—that last group a class that includes plenty of students, too. Maud has her own issues with drinking, but her biggest problems are the ongoing affair she’s pursued with Steven, a married professor, and a column she’s written for the campus paper mocking anti-abortion protesters at a nearby hospital. Just as Maud’s writing grabs attention and her relationship with Steven falls apart, she’s killed in a car accident. The novel isn’t halfway done by then, and what follows isn’t an easy morality play about abortion rhetoric or teacher-student relationships. Rather, Stone pursues a close study of how Maud’s death has undone many of the certainties of those around her. The incident drives her father back to drinking and pondering past corruptions. An adviser recalls her own history as a protester and reconsiders her faith. And Steven, who was arguing with a drunken Maud before her death, reckons with his own complicity. Stone gives this story the rough shape of a police procedural—Steven is the main person of interest—which gives the prose some snap and avoids sodden, moralizing lectures. What emerges from Stone’s crisp storytelling is a critique of tribalism of all sorts—religious, academic, police—that doesn’t damn those institutions but reveals how they work to protect their own interests at the expense of those of others.

An unusual but poised mix of noir and town-and-gown novel, bolstered by Stone’s well-honed observational skills.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-618-38623-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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