Spiritual fiction is a byway little traveled by mainstream authors, but Merullo has grown so persuasive over the course of...

BREAKFAST WITH BUDDHA

Merullo again takes on religion, but this time he makes it a lot more accessible than in Golfing with God (2005, etc.).

Eschewing the previous novel’s flat-out fantasy (setting: heaven; narrator: dead), the author here provides a realistic framework that plays to his strengths as an astute observer of society and sympathetic analyst of individual psyches. Otto Ringling, a senior editor at a New York publishing house, likes his job, loves his wife and two teenage children and takes pride in the comfortable life he’s built. But he’s been shaken by the recent death of his parents in a car crash: “All these joys and miseries, all this busyness, all this stuff…I started to ask myself, leads exactly where?” He’s not looking forward to a long drive to North Dakota with his sister Cecelia to sort through their parents’ possessions. And he’s infuriated when Cecelia informs him she’s not going after all, but sending instead her “guru,” Volya Rinpoche, to whom she intends to donate the family farmhouse and her share of the land for a retreat in North Dakota. Otto’s not happy to be traveling with a man in a maroon robe who seems almost a buffoon, with his broken English and tendency to talk in riddles. Slowly, as Merullo sends this odd couple down rural back roads through beautifully described landscapes, we see Otto’s defenses dropping as Volya’s quiet wisdom becomes apparent. The lessons imparted are neither new nor startling (live fully in the moment, etc.), but the author eloquently conveys their simple power to ease Otto’s mind and heart. Volya makes no claim to be “the incarnation of the Buddha” others have called him, but this low-key novel movingly shows him to be a tender lover of humanity.

Spiritual fiction is a byway little traveled by mainstream authors, but Merullo has grown so persuasive over the course of two luminous little novels that readers might well follow him even if he turned next to, say, Mornings with Mohammed.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-56512-522-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2007

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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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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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