There seems to be a happy ending here, though it’s hard to be certain for whom.

MY EDUCATION

The sexual initiation of a graduate student, who learns how much she does not know, in a novel that somehow feels both overstuffed (style) and undernourished (substance).

From the reference in the first sentence to “a highly conspicuous man,” one of “scandalous, noteworthiness, and exceptional, even sinister, attractiveness,” Choi (A Person of Interest, 2008, etc.) makes it obvious to the reader that the novel’s rites of passage won’t be confining this education to the classroom. Yet what seems inevitable, particularly after the narrator becomes the teaching assistant to the man of such scandalous, sinister attractiveness, turns out to be anything but, as her attraction to her mentor is mere prelude to complications involving the professor’s wife, the professor’s nannies, the narrator’s roommate, and one alcohol-drenched party and another even more drunken happy hour. Throughout, Regina Gottlieb seems as clueless and directionless as she is articulate (or at least verbose; she expresses herself in convoluted sentences and paragraphs that test the reader’s endurance). She thinks and writes (for, ultimately, she becomes a writer) like this: “Even I, who had never before had a female lover; much less one who was married; much less married to my own former mentor; much less a professor herself at the school at which I was a student—even I who, due to all this complicated inexperience...,” and so on. Her orgasms require expressions almost as choppy: “I seemed to come right away, with a hard, popping effervescence, as if her mouth had raised blisters, or an uppermost froth; but beneath, magma still heaved and groaned and was yearning to fling itself into the air.” Flash forward 15 years, when she informs, succinctly, “Reader, I grew up,” and her education has now extended to her own marriage (“an intricate code of reliance”) and middle age (when “the least reconcilable times of one’s life would in fact coexist until death” and “I didn’t live thoughtlessly in my flesh anymore”). Yet her past improbably returns as more than flashbacks, and her education leaves her by the end knowing even less than when she had started.

There seems to be a happy ending here, though it’s hard to be certain for whom.

Pub Date: July 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-670-02490-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2013

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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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