Splendid images and prose, but too much is left unsaid, leaving a splintered story at the core.

THE SILENT WOMAN

Dodd takes a sliver from the life of expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980) and creates an odd, claustrophobic fictionalized biography.

Wounded and shell-shocked after WWI, Oskar takes a teaching position at the Dresden Academy and residence with the local art museum’s director. The gentlemanly Herr Posse hopes that a calming routine and a steady diet of his young housekeeper Hulda's hearty cooking will restore Oskar to health and painting. It’s not war that has driven the artist to the brink of madness, it’s Alma Mahler’s marriage to Walter Gropius. Oskar was Alma’s lover before the war; in fact, he enlisted to impress her. Now abandoned by the notorious Viennese beauty, Oskar becomes fanatically attached to her memory and obsessed with the idea of a “silent woman.” He commissions a dollmaker to create a life-sized replica of his Alma—only quieter, kinder, and more pliant. Then he enlists Herr Posse's housekeeper, whom he’s casually renamed Reserl, to serve as lady's maid to his big doll. They pretend “Madame” is alive, serving her dinner, styling her hair, dressing her for bed. The heartache behind this absurd behavior is obvious to Reserl, the true silent woman, who is secretly in love with the tortured Oskar and willing to debase herself to win his favor. She falls under the full brunt of Madame's demanding requests and suffers with the knowledge that Oskar’s eyes always look a few inches past her, even when she is sharing his bed. The art teacher who tells his students that they must really see is himself blind to reality. Dodd has intriguing material here (there was in fact an Alma doll, first mentioned in a 1986 Kokoschka biography), and she creates a restrained portrait of obsession, Oskar's and Reserl’s. But restraint seems a poor tool with which to explore passion.

Splendid images and prose, but too much is left unsaid, leaving a splintered story at the core.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-688-17000-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 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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