BEYOND THE FIRE

A dizzy whirlwind of a debut thriller that ultimately runs out of air: about the fate of an American soldier trying to return home 25 years after having been listed as missing in action. Do the garroted corpses of employees of the Manhattan-based international arms-dealer Parker Global have anything to do with the savagely wounded hulk of a Colonel Everett Ransom found bleeding in the Vietnamese jungle? First-novelist Salinger suggests a connection as he cuts rapidly between the idyllic paradise of postwar Vietnam and the NYPD Bluelike milieu of Homicide Lieutenant Mel Fink and his partner, Don Barton. As Barton and Fink (their names are juxtaposed, making for a series of campy allusions to the Coen brothers movie) are seduced but not corrupted by various denizens of Parker Global, Colonel Ransom awakens to find himself under the care of Isaac ``Zach'' Johnson, a saintly Army medic who was captured by the Viet Cong and has survived all these years as a village doctor. Ransom vows to take Johnson, and his Vietnamese girlfriend Mee Yang, back to the States—no simple task, thanks to a sky-high pile of thinly brushed bad guys inside Parker Global, the Pentagon, and the news media. Soon, everybody wants to kill Johnson and Ransom, a former bad guy who did secret arms smuggling for Parker Global. Salinger doesn't let any of his microscopically brief chapters end without Hollywood-style ultraviolence, bedroom acrobatics, or a snickering revelation of how nasty some Americans can be. Whatever help such devices might offer, his story still collapses under the corpses of too many interchangeably vile also-rans, while his thesis—that finding out what really happened to our Vietnam vets, POWs, and MIAs is the kind of prayer that God can only answer as a curse—does not convince. A quick, breezy, confusing read that, despite its baggy plot, gratuitous sex, and ditto violence, shows the skills of a writer who is meant for finer things.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 1997

ISBN: 0-446-52079-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1997

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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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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