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Fast

A sometimes-engaging story that suffers from a disjointed presentation.

Cea’s debut novel, an allegorical adaptation of the legend of Faust, tells a story about the difficult choices that face people in the modern world.

The book starts with a preface by the author and a prologue from the narrator’s point of view, explaining the philosophical underpinnings of the story to come. Cea notes that there will be many allusions to classic literature and film, which he says will enrich the narrative. His unnamed narrator then begins the tale in earnest, looking back on his own mistakes in life and pondering the context for his downfall. The first half of the book is the most engaging, showing the narrator’s upbringing in New York City by a strong mother and a father who was kind to his family and friends but unrelentingly brutal to those he saw as cruel. The narrator was a bright kid, but not terribly interested in what school had to offer—until a teacher showed him how to question his surroundings in a more intellectual manner. There are some beautiful moments here, especially when the narrator tries to understand his father’s dual nature. The second half of the book is more contrived, as the narrator settles into the Faust plotline. He’s talked into buying a horse and gets involved in a gambling scheme that’s backed by organized crime. This interrupts a developing storyline from the first half, in which the narrator gets married and is forced to adapt to the fact of his father’s death. But although the author introduces some colorful characters in the latter half of the book, the narrator’s family barely appears in it. The author’s motivations for joining the scheme are attributed to his need to get ahead for his family’s sake, but readers never get to see that family life in order to put that decision in context. He winds up in prison, and after long passages of debating different schools of philosophical thought, he ends up leading a different life than the one he envisioned. The novel’s frequent allusions to other works, which the author footnotes and explains, wind up being more of a distraction than a useful addition.

A sometimes-engaging story that suffers from a disjointed presentation.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-692-57709-7

Page Count: 258

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2016

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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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THE RUMOR

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Hilderbrand’s latest cautionary tale exposes the toxic—and hilarious—impact of gossip on even the most sophisticated of islands.

Eddie and Grace Pancik are known for their beautiful Nantucket home and grounds, financed with the profits from Eddie’s thriving real estate company (thriving before the crash of 2008, that is). Grace raises pedigreed hens and, with the help of hunky landscape architect Benton Coe, has achieved a lush paradise of fowl-friendly foliage. The Panciks’ teenage girls, Allegra and Hope, suffer invidious comparisons of their looks and sex appeal, although they're identical twins. The Panciks’ friends the Llewellyns (Madeline, a blocked novelist, and her airline-pilot husband, Trevor) invested $50,000, the lion’s share of Madeline’s last advance, in Eddie’s latest development. But Madeline, hard-pressed to come up with catalog copy, much less a new novel, is living in increasingly straightened circumstances, at least by Nantucket standards: she can only afford $2,000 per month on the apartment she rents in desperate hope that “a room of her own” will prime the creative pump. Construction on Eddie’s spec houses has stalled, thanks to the aforementioned crash. Grace, who has been nursing a crush on Benton for some time, gives in and a torrid affair ensues, which she ill-advisedly confides to Madeline after too many glasses of Screaming Eagle. With her agent and publisher dropping dire hints about clawing back her advance and Eddie “temporarily” unable to return the 50K, what’s a writer to do but to appropriate Grace’s adultery as fictional fodder? When Eddie is seen entering her apartment (to ask why she rented from a rival realtor), rumors spread about him and Madeline, and after the rival realtor sneaks a look at Madeline’s rough draft (which New York is hotly anticipating as “the Playboy Channel meets HGTV”), the island threatens to implode with prurient snark. No one is spared, not even Hilderbrand herself, “that other Nantucket novelist,” nor this magazine, “the notoriously cranky Kirkus.”

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Pub Date: June 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-33452-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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