Leith’s narrative runs mildly manic after a while, but the dichotomy between his unruffled prose and the mad events at hand...

THE COINCIDENCE ENGINE

When a British student comes to possess a physics-bending device, all hell breaks loose on his journey across America.

Former Telegraph editor Leith (Sod’s Law, 2009, etc.) spins a bewildering tale of cat-and-mouse, theoretical science and conspiracy theories in a novel that sometimes threatens to baffle its audience. A comic thriller whose characters are all deadly serious, the book shows much of the same imaginative verve as Steven Hall’s mind-bender The Raw Shark Texts (2007). The pursuers in the book are all chasing Alex Smart, a Cambridge post-grad who has impulsively flown to America to propose to his girlfriend in San Francisco. But strange happenings are afoot around Alex. The young man has inadvertently acquired a device dubbed The Coincidence Engine, which affects the way probability works and grows more powerful each time it works. This explosive effect has attracted the attention of the Directorate of the Extremely Improbable, a collection of Men (and Women) in Black led by the ambitious Red Queen. “Our job is to assess threats to national security that we don’t know exist, using methods that we don’t know work,” she says. “This produces results that we generally can’t recognize as results, and when we can recognize them as results, we don’t know how to interpret them.” We also get a satisfying back story about the engine’s mad creator, Nicolas Banacharski, who is loosely based on the reclusive mathematician Alexander Grothendieck. Trying to put things right, or at least turn them off, are Bree and Jones, a level-headed DEI agent and her psychotic partner. In Alex’s path, a 737 materializes out of a hurricane, traditional machinery malfunctions and the inevitable frogs fall from the sky. It’s a little Gravity’s Rainbow with a pinch of airport thriller and a dash of The X-Files, and a dizzying stir.

Leith’s narrative runs mildly manic after a while, but the dichotomy between his unruffled prose and the mad events at hand ultimately foster a savvy comedic groove.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-71642-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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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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