DEEP DOWN THINGS

In Linse’s (How to Be a Man, 2014) novel, three orphaned siblings must rely on each other through a host of tragedies and triumphs.
CJ, Tibs and Maggie are siblings whose lives fell apart when, during their childhood, their parents were killed in an accident. Their relationships with each as adults other are fraught, and their coping mechanisms, poor. CJ, the eldest, throws herself into her bartending job and relationships with unavailable men. Tibs idolizes Ernest Hemingway and dreams of becoming an author but can’t bring himself to actually begin writing. And sweet Maggie, the youngest, throws a wrench into all of their lives when she falls for Jackdaw, a macho cowboy. When Maggie gets pregnant, Jackdaw reluctantly agrees to marry her but then withdraws completely when their child is born with spina bifida, leaving Maggie to rely on her siblings for support. Linse certainly has a feel for the world of rodeos, ranches and the West. Her descriptions ably evoke the landscape, with its “long string of beaver ponds that ripple and dazzle in the light.” However, certain plot developments—a sudden pregnancy, the birth of a special needs child—don’t feel organic to the narrative. Instead, the story turns into a soap opera, particularly when, late in the novel, an unexpected love triangle develops and is left unresolved. Furthermore, the story is divided into short chapters that alternate perspectives among the four main characters. While this can certainly be an effective storytelling technique, the chapters are so short (sometimes just a page or two), the transitions feel jarred and choppy. Each character therefore feels a little underdeveloped, left to the devices of the machinery of the plot. Ultimately, the story has its poignant elements but feels a little too trite for its own good.

A moving but uneven depiction of a family struggling through loss.

Pub Date: July 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-0991386734

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Willow Words

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2014

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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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