CODA

A spare, sharp-boned bird of a novel, whose song is wrenchingly sad yet full of indomitable spirit. Astley (The Slow Natives, 1993, etc.) writes of old age, of life slipping past and freedom lost, and of loneliness. As Kathleen, dozing and daydreaming her way into decrepitude and oblivion, looks back over her life, the ``pictures came in savagely illuminated splats,'' edged by disappointment and unnameable desire. The setting is Australia, but the vast emptiness surrounding Astley's characters is a symptom of psychology rather than setting. Kathleen recalls her marriage: ``seeking the idyll yet somehow missing it...Solitariness nibbling away even in the middle of parties, dances, pillow-talk.'' Her husband, ``a tensed sales clerk with the distant crazed eyes of a visionary unable to satisfy his yearnings,'' disappeared into the jungle, searching for his ``new Jerusalem,'' then succumbed, quite willingly, to cancer. Then there were—and are—her two children. The monstrously selfish Shamrock (Sham) took a year off to find herself (`` `Where will you look, dear?' Kathleen had asked mildly'') en route to fulfillment as the wife of a crooked politician and hostess of opulent dinner parties. The somewhat less monstrously selfish Brian (Brain) is miserably married, miserably adulterous, and prone to quoting Tennyson over his breakfast bran. Kathleen—except when available to baby-sit—has become nothing but a burden, a threat to her children's cherished, illusory liberty. When Sham dumps her unceremoniously in a retirement community called Passing Downs, Kathleen makes one last dash for her own freedom. ``It's time to go feral,'' she announces to a stranger. ``Tribes of feral grandmothers holed up in the hills, just imagine it, refusing to take on those time-honoured mindings and moppings up after the little ones while the big ones jaunt into the distance.'' Astley is a marvelous writer and a hilarious, merciless, and poignant truth-teller.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 1994

ISBN: 0-399-13966-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1994

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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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Laymon moves us dazzlingly (and sometimes bewilderingly) from 1964 to 1985 to 2013 and incorporates themes of prejudice,...

LONG DIVISION

A novel within a novel—hilarious, moving and occasionally dizzying.

Citoyen “City” Coldson is a 14-year-old wunderkind when it comes to crafting sentences. In fact, his only rival is his classmate LaVander Peeler. Although the two don’t get along, they’ve qualified to appear on the national finals of the contest "Can You Use That Word in a Sentence," and each is determined to win. Unfortunately, on the nationally televised show, City is given the word “niggardly” and, to say the least, does not provide a “correct, appropriate or dynamic usage” of the word as the rules require. LaVander similarly blows his chance with the word “chitterlings,” so both are humiliated, City the more so since his appearance is available to all on YouTube. This leads to a confrontation with his grandmother, alas for City, “the greatest whupper in the history of Mississippi whuppings.” Meanwhile, the principal at City’s school has given him a book entitled Long Division. When City begins to read this, he discovers that the main character is named City Coldson, and he’s in love with a Shalaya Crump...but this is in 1985, and the contest finals occurred in 2013. (Laymon is nothing if not contemporary.) A girl named Baize Shephard also appears in the novel City is reading, though in 2013, she has mysteriously disappeared a few weeks before City’s humiliation. Laymon cleverly interweaves his narrative threads and connects characters in surprising and seemingly impossible ways.

Laymon moves us dazzlingly (and sometimes bewilderingly) from 1964 to 1985 to 2013 and incorporates themes of prejudice, confusion and love rooted in an emphatically post-Katrina world.

Pub Date: June 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-932841-72-5

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Bolden/Agate

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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