Insouciant, twee, and aphoristic, Rutkowski’s voice handily skewers stupidity.

VIOLENT OUTBURSTS

Rutkowski’s new flash-fiction compendium covers the gamut of hipster angst.

These 86 stories, most no longer than a page, resemble prose poems in that they highlight a single motif. Plot and storytelling play second fiddle to an Oulipo-esque obsession with language and wordplay. Puns abound, testing the average Anglophone’s tolerance for such contrivances: “When I hear ‘ice pack,’ I reach for an ice pick” (“Freon Drunk”); “Greekness, not Geekiness” (“If I Were He”); a linkage of “tantric” and “tantrum” (“At the Ayurvedic Center”). The proliferation of M’s in “McDonald’s Mania” goads McDonald’s own alliterative copy to hilarious extremes. Alliteration renders scatology sophisticated in “Caught in the Worst Way.” With additional insights bespeaking, perhaps, the perspective of maturity, Rutkowski reiterates themes and episodes covered in his earlier work (Haywire, 2010, etc.). These include tremulous childhood, subpar education, soul-sucking employment, the artist on the margins, the Asian-American experience, urban life, and the transgressive joys of tobacco. Stories often involve a turn that morphs the mundane into incipient madness, as in the OCD manifesto “Departure Checklist.” The unnamed first-person narrator common to all these short-shorts evinces alienation as he observes how his childhood pets’ feeding habits very closely resemble his own (“Pet-Food Dishes”), remarks on the vagaries of outdoor plumbing (“Our Basic Outhouse”), and imagines the palate of a dung beetle (“This Is the Shit”). Underwater real estate ownership is deplored in “Our Place.” In “Fuck the Dumb,” Rutkowski indulges in one of his favorite pursuits: disparaging literary conferences. A few stories, though, read like writing exercises picked up at those same conferences: “In College” begins every sentence with “I liked” or “I didn’t like.” In “UFOs,” each paragraph leads off with some variation of “The saucer man led us all away,” a device evoking a sestina or villanelle. As with a poetry collection, the stories here give up their full riches only on repeated reading.

Insouciant, twee, and aphoristic, Rutkowski’s voice handily skewers stupidity.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-941550-58-8

Page Count: 124

Publisher: Spuyten Duyvil

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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