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THE MEMORY OF RUNNING

A dreary tale of woe, with none of the dark places illuminated. (N.B.: Stephen King has done more than blurb the book. A...

The pain of the loser permeates actor/playwright McLarty’s first novel, part road story, part tragedy. It was released as an audiobook in 2000.

Vital statistics: Smithson Ide is 43, but he’s also 279 pounds, having survived for 20 years on beer and pretzels. He once weighed 121, running or biking everywhere. But now (it’s 1990) he’s a couch potato, single, living in a small Rhode Island town, working in a toy factory. As the story opens, his parents are killed in a car accident. They’d been a close-knit family, and he hates it that he’s drunk at the wake, drunk at the funeral. Then he learns that his older sister Bethany is in a Los Angeles morgue, and the shock impels Smithy to heave his fat self onto his childhood bike. His aimless start turns into a cross-country ride, and chapters alternate between his adventures on the road and Bethany’s sad history. Somewhere in her teens, she slipped into madness, posing stock-still for hours on end, or raking her skin, or speaking in a vile croak as if possessed by an alien spirit. Sometimes she’d just disappear. There were shrinks and hospital stays, and she recovered enough to date and marry, only to disappear for good on the honeymoon. Smithy has his own problems. He hates to touch or be touched. His only sex has been with ten-dollar whores in Vietnam, where he was badly wounded. Nam and Bethany were too much for him, and the beanpole became a porker filled with self-loathing. The long ride west is good for him, despite bizarre and improbable encounters (a dying AIDS patient, a gun-toting black man). Smithy stops drinking, loses 50 pounds, and is sustained by long-distance conversations with Norma, a wheelchair-bound former neighbor, every bit as lonely as Smithy. The two lost souls will come together in the Los Angeles morgue.

A dreary tale of woe, with none of the dark places illuminated. (N.B.: Stephen King has done more than blurb the book. A year ago, after he heard the audio version, he wrote a wildly enthusiastic piece for Entertainment Weekly. Immediately, there was a feeding-frenzy auction, huge advance, etc., etc.)

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2005

ISBN: 0-670-03363-4

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2004

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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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FIREFLY LANE

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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