A sometimes-haphazard tale but one with insightful moments.



Plaster (News, 2016, etc.) presents a comical novel concerning a lost film of Marilyn Monroe.

Henrietta is a struggling entertainment reporter in Oklahoma City, or “OKC,” as it’s often referred to in the text. The city may not seem like a hotbed of show-business activity, but a peculiar set of circumstances is destined to turn it into one. A down-on-his-luck producer/director named Deano DeBoffo happens to be stranded in town, where he was trying find backers for his own film, when the opportunity arises to make a movie about screen legend Monroe. A Hollywood agent/screenwriter in OKC named Marty Lowry claims to be in possession of a reel of 16-millimeter film, a little over three minutes long, that shows Monroe engaging in a sex act. Lowry’s idea is a simple one: he wants Deano to create a short docudrama around the footage and shoot scenes on the cheap in OKC using nothing but local talent. As luck would have it, the city happens to be home to a phenomenal Monroe impersonator—recently laid-off high school drama teacher Jim Bob Sherill. Jim Bob has dreams of becoming an actor; indeed, he’s so skilled at portraying Monroe that those who hire him seem to be unaware that he isn’t a woman. Meanwhile, other teachers are marching on the Oklahoma state capitol in protest of low wages and cuts to school arts program funding. As the teachers protest, the legislature considers incentives to lure other filmmakers to Oklahoma—and soon, the worlds of LA entertainment and OKC politics collide. The setup is indeed absurd, but as the novel goes on, it delves into some surprising subjects, including conspiracies surrounding Monroe’s death, the merits of the films of Edward D. Wood Jr., and details of method acting. Along the way, the reader learns, for instance, that Jacqueline Kennedy, of all people, said in 1962 that Monroe “will go on eternally.” Insights such as these give an unexpected weight to the fantastical characters and situations throughout. By contrast, when the book tackles more mundane subjects, it’s not quite as illuminating. The inclusion of angry teachers into the mix, for instance, doesn’t add very much to the drama, outside of a great deal of singing (Don McLean’s 1971 song “American Pie” makes more than one appearance) and the belabored idea that politicians aren’t very smart. At one point, for instance, the latter realize that that they can’t cut down too much on school funding—after all, having kids in the classroom is better than “having kids on the streets five days a week,” which “would sure enough spell trouble.” Indeed, the political aspects of the novel will likely test the reader’s patience, as the much more pressing issue is the creation of the docudrama and all the insanity that arises from it. The focus on Monroe’s life—and why she’s remembered so fondly, even today—proves to be much more intriguing than a fight for public school dance and theater productions.

A sometimes-haphazard tale but one with insightful moments.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9994185-0-5

Page Count: 220

Publisher: Mossik Press

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2018

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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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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