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MURTHER AND WALKING SPIRITS

A jovial but haltingly uneven tale of how several generational strands came to form one eccentric family. In rural Wales, a devout Methodist family rises slowly from poverty to 19th-century mercantile respectability, only to be spiritually and financially broken through a combination of hubris and bad luck. Davies's depiction of how the descendants of Samuel Gilmartin came to emigrate to British North America convincingly blends gritty humor—including a hilarious Welsh cursing contest- -with sympathetic portrayals of his characters. But operating at several registers below this Welsh plotline is the earlier, and much more thinly drawn, episode of how the Loyalist Gage family emigrated to Upper Canada following the American Revolution. The Gages never fully come to life, and when they paddle a canoe up the Hudson River all the way to Ontario, we've departed from familiar Davies territory and entered the realm of historical romance. Moreover, the two family episodes are organized around the kind of premise that is great fun at first, but that quickly begins to look irrelevant: the spirit of a recently murdered man finds himself attending a film festival alongside his murderer, a persnickety arts-critic nicknamed ``the Sniffer.'' While the Sniffer reviews official festival fare, his murder victim, Connor Gilmartin, is captivated by documentary footage covering his family history, which he alone can see. Strapped to this structural frame, the two plotlines inevitably begin to wobble. And though the trademark Davies preoccupations are here—skeletons creaking in the familial closets, money, spirituality—they're pitched far below the high- water mark the author achieved with What's Bred in the Bone (1988) and Lyre of Orpheus (1989). Minor work from a major talent—though there are enough flashes of former glory here to make this a must for serious fans.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-670-84189-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1991

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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. 21, 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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