A futuristic tale that’s light on drama and heavy on machinations.

PERFECT ISLAND

A dark future looms for a dystopian Singapore in this political horror novel.

Perera’s (Golem & Traum, 2018, etc.) book centers on Ben and Toni, a hopeful young couple who live in a bleak version of Singapore and try to keep up a bantering tone about the ruling Party’s increasingly draconian societal restrictions and penalties. Ben is a writer, but Toni is active in the opposition movement seeking to unseat the Party in the upcoming elections, and this introduces the story’s element of political intrigue. The author deepens that facet by taking readers deep inside the nefarious workings of the Party and all of its various ruling cabals. The Party secretly intends to manipulate a series of events in order to cancel the elections. Half of the momentum of the tale’s middle section involves the ever widening circle of evil lurking behind the Party: a sinister transnational corporation, a mysterious figure called The Gewgaw Man, and, ultimately, in one of the book’s crossovers into horror, a supernatural being named Azteroth. All of these players are working gleefully toward a totalitarian state (“It was going to be peachy”), which will be heralded by “The Rising,” a wave of smartphone-infected zombies (confusingly called “smombies”). The Party is thoroughly immoral, racist, anti-Semitic, and corrupt, believing in “price-is-right politicians” (“It is a simple matter of logic,” readers are told in an example of the book’s dry humor, “and it is also true, factual, obvious, manifest, crystal clear, undeniable, explicit, and bordering on a tautology”). The chilling parallels to current authoritarian politics are clear, including some admonishing notes about the monstrous indifference of the majority, who left Singapore (because of the “poppycock, lunacy, idiocy, incompetence, and utter moronic nature of The System”) rather than fight for the country. The author’s decision to end his narrative with two chapters consisting of long blocks of info-dumping is a bit bizarre and gives an already expositional tale a decidedly anticlimactic aftertaste. But the thinly veiled social commentary that propels the story is also its main source of interest.

A futuristic tale that’s light on drama and heavy on machinations.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-08-923902-4

Page Count: 299

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Dec. 31, 2019

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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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