An often endearing book about an ongoing search for meaning.


In Dills’ (Triumph of the Ape, 2013, etc.) novel, a man wonders about the meaning of life while investigating his father’s disappearance. 

In a prologue, Cash has just quit his job in the pit crew of Turner Bascombe, a famous, South Carolina–born automobile racer: “Reconsideration of life in the circuit…just wasn’t an option after all that had happened,” Cash thinks, and the novel looks back to when he was a fry cook at Henry’s Bar & Grill in North Carolina. One day, he received a vague phone message from a co-worker that his father, Ralph, was dead. He couldn’t believe it, and when he was unable to independently confirm the report, he packed up and drove to Chicago. At his father’s apartment, he found stacks of boxes and a cryptic note: “Son! In these boxes may you locate your ultimate salvation—or you might find nothing at all! Just a bunch of orange vests!” Cash decided to cut the vests into pieces and stitch the reflective bits into a suit. He puts it on and roams the streets, becoming known as “Shining Man”—performance artist and traffic scourge. Soon, a photographer takes pictures of him that end up in a local art gallery. Cash doesn’t find his missing father, but a second cryptic note from a mysterious figure (“Suited Man”) sends him to Birmingham, Alabama. There, he meets Turner Bascombe, who’s speeding down an interstate. He offers Cash a spot on his crew, so he moves to Charlotte, North Carolina, where interpersonal drama threatens to tear the team apart. Although the central mystery of Cash’s father’s disappearance results in an unsatisfactory payoff, it ably serves its purpose as a narrative engine, turning the novel into an enjoyable picaresque as Cash undertakes an interstate adventure. The protagonist is meditative and eloquent but also a little dopey at times; at one point, he ruminates on his reflective suit in a manner that may have readers scratching their heads: “’twas a quest for light that, ultimately, given the task’s clear physicality, its mindful mindlessness, blinded me to the possibility of knowledge, of candor, truth.” Cash styles himself a modern-day Henry David Thoreau, but he likes beer more than he does inquiry into life’s true essence. Indeed, his musings often feel like the nonsensical near profundities of a pickled philosopher—but this isn’t always a bad thing. Dills shows himself to be a terrific writer of revelry, and he engagingly depicts camaraderie among fellow artists and among low-wage workers—particularly bartenders and kitchen staff. Cash’s capacities for drink and introspection also don’t go unappreciated by others: “You have lived the lives that men lead, quiet desperation, man,” says Carl, a literary magazine editor. “Fucking Thoreau, dude. You’re the mass of men.” In the novel’s final act, the author highlights Cash’s paranoia as he uncovers the true identity of “Suited Man” and begins to piece together another ugly truth about a terrible accident at the racetrack that may not have been an accident after all. 

An often endearing book about an ongoing search for meaning.

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-60489-234-5

Page Count: 327

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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The years pass by at a fast and steamy clip in Blume’s latest adult novel (Wifey, not reviewed; Smart Women, 1984) as two friends find loyalties and affections tested as they grow into young women. In sixth grade, when Victoria Weaver is asked by new girl Caitlin Somers to spend the summer with her on Martha’s Vineyard, her life changes forever. Victoria, or more commonly Vix, lives in a small house; her brother has muscular dystrophy; her mother is unhappy, and money is scarce. Caitlin, on the other hand, lives part of the year with her wealthy mother Phoebe, who’s just moved to Albuquerque, and summers with her father Lamb, equally affluent, on the Vineyard. The story of how this casual invitation turns the two girls into what they call "Summer sisters" is prefaced with a prologue in which Vix is asked by Caitlin to be her matron of honor. The years in between are related in brief segments by numerous characters, but mostly by Vix. Caitlin, determined never to be ordinary, is always testing the limits, and in adolescence falls hard for Von, an older construction worker, while Vix falls for his friend Bru. Blume knows the way kids and teens speak, but her two female leads are less credible as they reach adulthood. After high school, Caitlin travels the world and can’t understand why Vix, by now at Harvard on a scholarship and determined to have a better life than her mother has had, won’t drop out and join her. Though the wedding briefly revives Vix’s old feelings for Bru, whom Caitlin is marrying, Vix is soon in love with Gus, another old summer friend, and a more compatible match. But Caitlin, whose own demons have been hinted at, will not be so lucky. The dark and light sides of friendship breathlessly explored in a novel best saved for summer beachside reading.

Pub Date: May 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32405-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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