Jarring and beautiful, this is a modern classic.

THE COSMOPOLITANS

Style and setting allow some beauty to intrude on this story of love, loss, and how low one might stoop to right a wrong.

Bette lives alone in Greenwich Village, stewing over her family's rejection and denial of a grave betrayal. Across the hall, Earl struggles to find work as an actor; in 1958, being black restricts his choices, and being gay means hiding even more of his desires. These two form a family of sorts as later middle age approaches, but when Bette's cousin Hortense enters their lives, the initial novelty festers into something grim. Schulman (The Mere Future, 2009, etc.) takes chances with style and structure. The word jazz that pops and crackles in occasional street scenes is overlaid with what she describes in an afterword as the stilted British voice that marks many works in translation. She also writes herself into the story as the squalling newborn down the hall; her crying precipitates a vital scene. Bette's integrity quickly comes undone when she feels she's been wronged (by Earl and Hortense but also by her family back home), and her work in the evolving field of television advertising offers her a thoroughly modern set of tools with which to wreak destruction. There are times when her manipulations are hard to watch yet impossible to turn away from; her victories, though hard-won, are full of contradictions, and Earl’s actions are no less complicated. Yet all this drama is grown from shared cups of tea, poetry, and late-night conversations, commiserations about jobs and romance, the long roots of an established friendship. It testifies to the elegant construction of the novel that it can balance the hopes of an entire era on the backs of a fragile relationship and leave no doubt as to its resilience.

Jarring and beautiful, this is a modern classic.

Pub Date: March 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-55861-904-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Feminist Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 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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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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