MEMORY THEATER

This strange, mesmerizing novel is hard to shake, evoking lucidity, mortality, and weirdness in equally memorable measures.

An academic receives a series of documents from a deceased colleague, leading him down an obsessive path.

Critchley’s surreal and intellectual novel begins with a kind of memento mori: “I was dying. That much was certain. The rest is fiction.” That neatly establishes the mood of what’s to come: a meditation on philosophy and mortality that begins carefully and meticulously and slowly heads into progressively more irrational strata. And yet it’s also a playful nod to the more metafictional aspects of the book: the narrator here appears to be a version of Critchley, but the story being told can best be described as a novel, unlike the rest of its author’s work. The novel begins when Critchley receives a selection of documents compiled by his late colleague Michel Haar; in a glossary at the back of the book, Critchley notes that “much of what is said about him above is true. Some of it isn’t.” And so it goes: real philosophers interweaving, with brief observations on aging, culture, and Critchley’s fondness for the long-running post-punk band The Fall. Into this precise literary structure comes a series of precise intellectual structures: first, a series of memory maps, which take on precognitive abilities: “Their purpose was to plot the major events in a philosopher’s life and then to use those events to explain his demise.” And from there comes the structure that gives the book its title: a memory theater, a concept with which the narrator becomes progressively more obsessed. What begins as an eminently rational work slowly takes on a haunting illogic, a kind of intellectual horror creeping in.

This strange, mesmerizing novel is hard to shake, evoking lucidity, mortality, and weirdness in equally memorable measures.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59051-740-6

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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. 21, 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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