A PERFECT EXECUTION

British novelist Binding (In The Kingdom Of Air, 1994) continues to plumb the dark recesses of jolly old England, but the narrative links are stretched to the limit in this tale of a hangman's knotted existence within interlocking love triangles. Feared executioner Solomon Straw has retired as the story begins, leaving his ropes and his ``stage'' name behind to find peace as a country pub owner with his wife Judith and their infant son. The long tangle of events preceding his return to normalcy and his given name, Jeremiah (Jem) Bembo, however, ranges far from tranquility. Raised with his cousin Will in a family of farmers descended from a famous actor, Jem is ever reserved, while Will yearns for the glitter and patter of the music hall; when the two vie for the affections of young Judith, her choice of the more solid Jem proves a bone of contention for decades. The war changes everything, as a German air raid brings a plane down on the Bembo greenhouses, destroying them and burying a piece of flying glass in newlywed Jem's eye. He watches with crippled vision as his neighbors slowly murder the badly wounded German pilot. Shocked by such brutality, Jem vows to become the most decent and efficient of executioners, even at the cost of his feelings for Judith. But years later, when Dancing Danny steps onto the scaffold for killing a rival in the hopeless pursuit of a local girl, Jem errs in his meticulous procedure, shaken in part by having delivered his firstborn himself only two days before. Then he learns to his horror not only that he has executed an innocent man, but also that the echoes of his earlier rivalry have taken deadly shape in this more recent affair. In its tricky details in the binding up of several hugely different lives, this is a macabre, compelling story, proving powerful in spite of its convolutions and excess.

Pub Date: July 2, 1996

ISBN: 0-385-48412-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1996

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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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THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

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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