GOODNESS

This dependably lively British author (Tongues of Flame, 1986, etc.) scores again with his story of a devil-take-the-hindmost yuppie challenged by the birth of a deformed baby. When George Crawley was very young, his missionary father died an unnecessary martyr's death in Africa and endangered the entire family. Back in England, watching his selfless mother, another indefatigable Christian, slaving for his unappreciative grandfather and retarded Aunt Mavis in their shabby home, George derides ``the saving...of souls.'' If his mother wants to live on ``the planet Goodness,'' fine; George will look out for George. He quickly escapes his embarrassing family, marries money (happily, he's also in love with the charming Shirley), and lands an excellent job designing computer software. Life is a childless, double-income paradise until Shirley does a U-turn and decides she wants a kid; after stormy arguments, she gets her way. Hilary is born with a rare condition akin to Down's syndrome. How could this be? Then it dawns on George: Aunt Mavis! Bad genes! Why was he never warned not to have children? After venting his fury on his grandfather, he casts around for a solution; but an operation leaves Hilary worse off, and the faith-healer cannot work a miracle. George is no monster; his love for his baby girl equals Shirley's, but his nature craves action—which means (ultimately) euthanasia, which means a cleansing fire: he will sacrifice their beautiful house for a new, childless life. Parks provides a stunning climax in which George, against the odds, saves his own soul. The brisk, slangy style here is an effective antidote to the downbeat material; this is not a gloomy book. Even more skillful is Parks's characterization of George: we watch this guy raining blows on a helpless old man and yet retain some sympathy for him. Nice work.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-8021-1390-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1991

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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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