NOTHING BUT BLUE SKIES

Ex-hippie and ex-druggie Montana businessman and cattle- rancher Frank Copenhaver is winding down: ``the man who had always been just ahead of events was now slightly behind them.'' He's going broke, he's lost his wife, and his daughter is keeping company with a Montana-Firster fascist-type who is Frank's own age or thereabouts. Frank—as the good McGuane character he is—is given to outsized and far-fetched screw-ups and high-jinks, but error isn't saving him now. Nothing is. This errant yet debonair loser—McGuane's perpetual protagonist—gains something with age, though—as does McGuane. A lovely stylist always, McGuane has been handicapped by having to jab at a hip counterculture as silly as his own dandy-ish characters were. But now, with the passing of that counterculture, with only its relics like Frank Copenhaver left, it—like Frank- -takes on poignancy, and McGuane is free to become a kind of American Kingsley Amis. Unloved and unwanted by the Zeitgeist (which prefers the Perot-like doings of the Montana-Firster), Frank is an unchained eye in a novel that shares the tang of liberation and is all over the map as he thinks, for example, now about McDonald's (``Americans had overtaken their product line, if he was any judge, waiting for McThis and McThat. If there were only a few departures or insights—McShit on the toilets, anything—it would be so much easier to take one's seat in this American meeting place and not feel such despair that the world was going on without you''), now about the disappeared drug-culture (``And what fun those darn drugs were. Marvelous worlds aslant, a personal speed wobble in the middle of a civilization equally out of control. And it was wonderful, however short, to have such didactic views on everything, everyone coming down from the mountain with the tablets of stone. Hard to say what it all came to now. Skulls in the desert''). Funny, sad, deliciously written (albeit with dumb plot curlicues): McGuane's most amiable novel, perhaps his best.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 1992

ISBN: 0-395-54540-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1992

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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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