Reichl’s first fictional outing is something of a curate’s egg—good in parts.

DELICIOUS!

Tragedy, war, fairy-tale makeover, trauma resolution, romance and—of course—food are just some of the ingredients in dining critic and celebrated memoirist Reichl’s (Garlic and Sapphires, 2005, etc.) first novel, a bittersweet pudding with some lumps in the batter.

Food metaphors irresistibly suggest themselves when considering this author’s flavor-driven debut, set in the New York offices of Delicious!, a magazine not unlike Gourmet, where Reichl was editor in chief. At the fictional magazine, Billie Breslin, 21 and gifted with a prodigious palate, gets a job as editor’s assistant and encounters a kindly cast of foodies, including travel editor Sammy and cheese shop owner Sal. Billie writes emails to her older, prettier, more popular sister, Genie, with whom, implausibly, she set up a successful cake-baking business in California when they were 10 and 11. But Billie’s mysterious past is merely one strand of Reichl’s tenderly written yet overstuffed story, which shifts focus after the magazine is suddenly closed down. A cache of wartime letters from a child named Lulu to famous chef James Beard, which Billie unearths in a hidden room behind the magazine’s library, is used to pull in some odd, heavyweight issues, including World War II injustices against Italian-Americans and the Underground Railroad. Meanwhile, Sammy has encouraged Billie to open up about the secrets of her past, after which it’s time for contact lenses, a cool haircut and a new wardrobe, converting the ugly duckling into a kooky swan. This helps Billie’s attraction to Mr. Complainer—one of Sal's picky customers and a top-rated architectural historian—take wing. An argument and the search for Lulu prolong the story, but Reichl manages to bring matters comfortingly to rest with a kitchen epiphany and a recipe.

Reichl’s first fictional outing is something of a curate’s egg—good in parts.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6962-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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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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Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s...

HOME FRONT

 The traumatic homecoming of a wounded warrior.

The daughter of alcoholics who left her orphaned at 17, Jolene “Jo” Zarkades found her first stable family in the military: She’s served over two decades, first in the army, later with the National Guard. A helicopter pilot stationed near Seattle, Jo copes as competently at home, raising two daughters, Betsy and Lulu, while trying to dismiss her husband Michael’s increasing emotional distance. Jo’s mettle is sorely tested when Michael informs her flatly that he no longer loves her. Four-year-old Lulu clamors for attention while preteen Betsy, mean-girl-in-training, dismisses as dweeby her former best friend, Seth, son of Jo’s confidante and fellow pilot, Tami. Amid these challenges comes the ultimate one: Jo and Tami are deployed to Iraq. Michael, with the help of his mother, has to take over the household duties, and he rapidly learns that parenting is much harder than his wife made it look. As Michael prepares to defend a PTSD-afflicted veteran charged with Murder I for killing his wife during a dissociative blackout, he begins to understand what Jolene is facing and to revisit his true feelings for her. When her helicopter is shot down under insurgent fire, Jo rescues Tami from the wreck, but a young crewman is killed. Tami remains in a coma and Jo, whose leg has been amputated, returns home to a difficult rehabilitation on several fronts. Her nightmares in which she relives the crash and other horrors she witnessed, and her pain, have turned Jo into a person her daughters now fear (which in the case of bratty Betsy may not be such a bad thing). Jo can't forgive Michael for his rash words. Worse, she is beginning to remind Michael more and more of his homicide client. Characterization can be cursory: Michael’s earlier callousness, left largely unexplained, undercuts the pathos of his later change of heart. 

Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s aftermath.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-57720-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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