THE TREE-SITTER

The provocative issues raised sometimes get lost in the predictability of the romance and ho-hum characters.

Poet and novelist Matson (A Trick of Nature, 2000, etc.) explores the boundaries between activism and terrorism through the eyes of a privileged college student in the throes of first love.

The pampered, protected daughter of an aristocratic, politely liberal Boston lawyer—a single mother inseminated by a sperm-donor—Julie is a naïve Wellesley College sophomore when she falls madly in love with Neil, a Ph.D. candidate studying deforestation. In her first act of overt rebellion, Julie ignores her mother’s misgivings and accompanies Neil to Oregon for the summer to work with activists who are trying to thwart the logging industry. Of course, unable or unwilling to escape her sense of privilege, Julie does keep her trust-fund account handy. Mainly drawn to Oregon by the possibility of sex in the trees with Neil, Julie soon finds herself among young people who take their idealism very seriously. At first intimidated, then skeptical, Julie is drawn to the romanticism of Neil’s commitment. She remains besotted even as she recognizes that he is an ideologue who sees the necessity of terrorist acts for their shock value. Because she can draw, Julie is sent to the Wainwright Timber Company to sketch the plant’s layout. As a ruse, she applies for a job with the company and ends up working there for a month. While spying and stealing company documents for the activists, she gets to know and like her fellow Wainwright employees, even Mr. Wainwright himself. Her ambivalence and burgeoning skepticism deepen when the usually reserved Neil finally declares his love for her. After a bomb he’s planted at an SUV dealership injures a salesman, Julie finally bales out of the movement and returns to school without Neil. Two years later, when she reads that Wainwright Timber has been bombed, she feels guilt and fear.

The provocative issues raised sometimes get lost in the predictability of the romance and ho-hum characters.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2006

ISBN: 0-393-06046-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2005

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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