Pleasant enough in a punny way, but awfully British. Lots of sex to compensate for the lame jokes.

SPIN CYCLE

Can a divorced stand-up comedienne find happiness with a washing-machine repairman?

Sure, says the author of Neurotica (1999)—particularly when her dentist fiancé is away in South Africa. Rachel Katz isn’t positive she wants to marry Adam anyway, even if her mum is busily planning the wedding. Oh, well. Adam makes a good living even if he is deadly dull and prone to nosebleeds; and, despite her dreams of glory, Rachel isn’t exactly setting audiences on fire at the Anarchist Bathmat comedy club. Shelley, her best friend and neighbor, a health-food nut with gigantic bosoms, lends a sympathetic ear. Freewheeling Shelley isn’t sure Rachel should marry Adam, either. Rachel’s ten-year-old son Sam is indifferent, but he doesn’t really think about anything except his growing collection of Barbra Streisand records. Is it possible he’s gay like his father? Rachel frets over this until Matt Clapton, a hunky washing-machine repairman, becomes a distraction. He thinks she’s hysterically funny, and he’s happy to be her (cough, cough) handyman. Rachel feels a few pangs of guilt for cheating, but she reasons that it doesn’t matter since she and Adam hardly ever had sex. She’s got other things to worry about: her mum is having a bikini wax and shopping for revealing underwear. What on earth? Then she catches her parents doing something wild with another elderly couple! The truth comes out: Mum and Dad are baring their wrinkly bottoms for a how-to sex video for seniors. Oh, well. No big deal compared to the latest news flash from South Africa: Adam’s dumping her for an anorexic dental hygienist who starches her underwear. Rachel can’t worry about that now: she’s getting ready for a big comedy competition, which she just might win if an Aussie upstart doesn’t steal all her material. Life goes on, and so do the silly contrivances.

Pleasant enough in a punny way, but awfully British. Lots of sex to compensate for the lame jokes.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2001

ISBN: 0-440-50923-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Delta

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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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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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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