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FAST

Vivid storytelling in a Faustian tale, with a few meanderings.

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A boy growing up in New York City becomes riven between good and evil in this debut coming-of-age novel.

The story opens with the unnamed narrator as an infant, timid in nature and emotionally attached to his teddy bear. His father is quite the opposite. Recently released from prison and the son of an Italian immigrant prizefighter, he is tender toward his family but has a brutal temper when crossed by others. When the narrator is being bullied at school, a man in a red sweat suit arrives, douses the culprit in gasoline, and threatens to torch him. The narrator suspects that the “red stranger” is connected to his father, and his innocence begins to slowly recede. After developing a proclivity to play truant from high school, the narrator has a chance encounter with his teacher Delbar Pahlavi, who introduces him to the joys of classic literature. The narrator’s family moves to New Jersey, where he adapts to suburbia; finds a girl, Alex; and, in time, becomes an attorney. It is at this point in his life that the “red stranger” returns, offering the possibility of great wealth, to be accrued from fixing horse races. The lure of the dark side is devilishly tempting. Cea offers a contemporary take on the classic German Faust legend, in which a demon lures the dissatisfied protagonist into temptation. This is intelligent, weighty writing. When describing his grandfather, the narrator notes: “He wasn’t courageous, just fearless. His demeanor was of a quiet confidence. Some people may have mistaken him for complacent. That wasn’t it either. He was just satisfied with the way his life turned out, and completely happy.” The portrait is followed by a pleasingly serene account of the family making wine together. These tender observations are counterbalanced by searingly pitiless passages, as when the narrator’s father urinates on a corpse, commenting: “I told him I was going to piss on his grave. I’m just saving myself the trip.” Cea proves expert in celebrating and berating the cult of masculinity in equal measure. On occasion, the author shoehorns in a philosophical debate, such as a protracted conversation between a priest and a physicist regarding Creation. Although engaging, this is somewhat incongruous to the developing narrative. But this proves only a minor distraction from a thoroughly engrossing novel.

Vivid storytelling in a Faustian tale, with a few meanderings.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-692-57709-7

Page Count: 230

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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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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FIREFLY LANE

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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