Not the most simpatico protagonist, but continuous mishaps make for a gloriously absurd tale.

Who's The Lucky Guy?

A recently unemployed and terminally ill man’s scheme to make millions growing saffron inadvertently sparks an international incident in Muggington’s (Pomroy’s World: Alone, 2015, etc.) droll comedy.

The same day Borden Duffield loses his Wall Street job, his doctor tells him that he has pancreatic cancer and, at best, a year to live. Wife Helen’s new gig walking dogs won’t pay the mortgage, but Borden gets no response from the hundreds of job applications he’s sent out. When he learns saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, Borden and neighbor/best friend Hill Buckley head to Pennsylvania’s Amish Country for pointers on farming it. He figures if he can make a profitable saffron business, he’ll secure Helen’s future. The Amish trip doesn’t go well, so Borden books a flight to Iran, top producer of saffron. His decision to hide his plan from Helen, however, leads to a misunderstanding (of sorts), and Helen reports her husband kidnapped. By the time Borden returns to the U.S., any saffron-relevant info he’s picked up takes a back seat to the media hounding his door. Things only get more confusing from here once the kidnapping ordeal drags a U.S. government agent, a CIA spy, and Satoshi Nakamoto, the mysterious inventor of the bitcoin, into the Duffields’ lives. Muggington’s novel is chiefly a series of misadventures, amusing scenes involving an inebriated Borden and Hill causing problems, including a kitchen fire. Borden can be boorish at times—he’s unemployed but fully expects Helen to handle the cooking and then complains, even if just to himself, about her culinary skills. Nevertheless, his goal to ensure Helen will be OK after he’s gone is admirable. It’s clear, too, that Borden loves his wife; he’s often in trouble due to excessive drinking, but he’s at least worried that Helen will be mad. The zany story goes in surprising directions, like when Helen suddenly becomes intent on communicating with her canine client, Haggis. She succeeds, a turn that has a humorous connection to the main plot. The ending doesn’t quite answer all the questions—a suitcase mix-up remains a bit perplexing—but Muggington largely resolves the story.

Not the most simpatico protagonist, but continuous mishaps make for a gloriously absurd tale.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5170-7443-2

Page Count: 280

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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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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