He may have meant to warn against fresh hubris, but humor is a tricky vehicle at a time when refugees, casualties and...

THE GLOBAL WAR ON MORRIS

The entire U.S. anti-terror apparatus is trained on one hapless pharmaceutical salesman in this debut novel by a U.S. congressman from New York.

Morris Feldstein’s personal philosophy is “[d]on’t make waves,” but he winds up making a tsunami. He stumbles into a one-nighter—actually 22 minutes—with a doctor’s receptionist shortly after she’s had a bad date with a creep who adulterates stolen medications and sells them as legitimate. The creep connection and Dick Cheney’s need to boost the terror alert ahead of the 2004 Republican convention put Morris on the radar of several federal agencies. His dalliance also requires atonement by acceding to his wife’s demand for a condo in Florida. There, she befriends a young Muslim towel boy, one of four suicide-bombing volunteers in a terrorist group, who’s been waiting 30 months for a mission. Now Morris really has a connection to terrorists, and Cheney has the makings of a hot alert color. In a book dotted with Yiddish expressions from the first word—“tsuris,” or trouble—Morris, alas, is a schlub, while his wife, Rona, plays guilt-breeding Jewish mother to a nice Muslim boy who isn’t sure the 72 virgins are worth it. There’s a lot of cliché to these characters, which is fine for farce and for their main role of getting the feds into a high-tech version of the Keystone Kops. Israel has fun with the bureaucratic side of national security but offers few surprises, while his political jabs are rather flat and facile, and, after all, a decade late.

He may have meant to warn against fresh hubris, but humor is a tricky vehicle at a time when refugees, casualties and decapitations can make it hard to see the lighter side of any aspect of the war on terror.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4767-7223-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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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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Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s...

HOME FRONT

 The traumatic homecoming of a wounded warrior.

The daughter of alcoholics who left her orphaned at 17, Jolene “Jo” Zarkades found her first stable family in the military: She’s served over two decades, first in the army, later with the National Guard. A helicopter pilot stationed near Seattle, Jo copes as competently at home, raising two daughters, Betsy and Lulu, while trying to dismiss her husband Michael’s increasing emotional distance. Jo’s mettle is sorely tested when Michael informs her flatly that he no longer loves her. Four-year-old Lulu clamors for attention while preteen Betsy, mean-girl-in-training, dismisses as dweeby her former best friend, Seth, son of Jo’s confidante and fellow pilot, Tami. Amid these challenges comes the ultimate one: Jo and Tami are deployed to Iraq. Michael, with the help of his mother, has to take over the household duties, and he rapidly learns that parenting is much harder than his wife made it look. As Michael prepares to defend a PTSD-afflicted veteran charged with Murder I for killing his wife during a dissociative blackout, he begins to understand what Jolene is facing and to revisit his true feelings for her. When her helicopter is shot down under insurgent fire, Jo rescues Tami from the wreck, but a young crewman is killed. Tami remains in a coma and Jo, whose leg has been amputated, returns home to a difficult rehabilitation on several fronts. Her nightmares in which she relives the crash and other horrors she witnessed, and her pain, have turned Jo into a person her daughters now fear (which in the case of bratty Betsy may not be such a bad thing). Jo can't forgive Michael for his rash words. Worse, she is beginning to remind Michael more and more of his homicide client. Characterization can be cursory: Michael’s earlier callousness, left largely unexplained, undercuts the pathos of his later change of heart. 

Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s aftermath.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-57720-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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