Women’s fiction with a touch of noir.

PAM OF BABYLON

An intriguing first novel that revolves around a husband’s death and hidden secrets.

Pam Smith lives an apparently charmed life as a well-to-do Babylon, N.Y., homemaker in a large house by the water. In her 50s with her children grown, Pam is happy with her exemplary husband Jack. After he has a heart attack on the subway, however, the protagonist finds out more than she ever wanted to know about Jack. She uncovers a weapon in his desk, his extramarital affair, his mistress’ potential pregnancy and his possible abuse of her younger sister Marie, who comes to visit every weekend. Bordering on preposterous but consistently interesting, this psychological novel contains some mystery and moves along quickly for a non-thriller. While Pam is the novel’s protagonist, Jack’s mistress Sandra and Marie also play key roles. The three women all feel betrayed by Jack, and the plot focuses on their reactions to his deception. Pam, though, feels drawn to Sandra in empathy while Marie is angry and jealous. The women develop an odd bond, and Pam even invites the other two women for a weekend to relax at the beach house in Babylon—a hostess gesture that seems a bit extreme. The novel also focuses on Jack and Pam’s mothers, the latter of whom is having a hard time living alone in Brooklyn—Pam, of course, brings her to Babylon, too. Jenkins is skilled in her presentation of the characters’ inner thoughts, particularly at Jack’s funeral, where Pam’s emotions are decidedly mixed as various facts about her late spouse come to light. While the novel is convincing during moments between the main female characters, the plotline strains from narrative overload as extortion and issues of parentage come into play. Themes of sisterhood and abuse run through the book, and the three women shift between rivalry and friendship before becoming empowered by Jack’s demise.

Women’s fiction with a touch of noir.

Pub Date: July 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-1461135920

Page Count: 330

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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