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YONDER WHERE THE ROAD BENDS

A sublimely sensitive war tale rendered in exquisite language.

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A Civil War novel chronicles a teenager’s participation in the Battle of Natural Bridge as a Confederate soldier and his life in the defeated South. 

In March 1865, Virgil Hill is a military student at the West Florida Seminary and nearly 17 years old. Yankee soldiers intend to cross the Natural Bridge over the St. Marks River before they march into Florida’s state capital, Tallahassee. Gen. Sam Jones and his second-in-command, Gen. William Miller, realize they desperately need to recruit as many able-bodied men as possible to push back the Union Army, and that necessity is the magnet that draws Virgil into the war. On the way, he meets Neil Clary, a New Orleans native wizened by adversity—he’s only three years older than Virgil, but no one would ever guess that. Neil confesses that he’s a deserter—he ran away from the Tennessee Army, carrying the identification papers belonging to another man, which he is incapable of reading. He asks Virgil to write a letter for him to Ella Mayfield, a girlfriend devotedly waiting for his return. But Neil doesn’t survive the great Battle of Natural Bridge, hauntingly described by Abrams (A Piece of Bad Luck, 1995) in poetically stylized prose: “It is hard to stay collected at first. Hundreds of wild-eyed devils come firing and the high snarl, the sigh of lead looking hard for you can quicken the blood, make you grit your teeth.” Once the battle is won, Virgil treks back to the family farm and attempts to find his missing father, to no avail. He then travels in search of Ella, dedicated to giving her a ring Neil wore, and ends up working on her farm for months, lost between strenuous labor and burgeoning love. Abrams captivatingly depicts the atmosphere at the time—many of the Union soldiers attempting to cross the Natural Bridge are black, and few in the Confederate units have ever seen armed black men before. The sense of prideful triumph from the victory quickly evaporates into despair following Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender. Virgil is intriguingly complex, especially for such a young man—never a slave owner but still furious over the South’s loss, he is steadfastly unwilling to submit himself to despair, though he considers his youth spent. The author’s writing is an unusual mélange of period dialect and lyrical meditation, which creates a mood saturated in gravity: “I saw that the body remained in varying degrees of holes and rents, but that the main ingredient had moved away. The dead are not there anymore, is what I saw, and that the body alone is but a paltry affair and no more than a house abandoned.” Readers who fancy Faulkner—both for his expressive prose and his authentic portrayals of the American South—are likely to find in Abrams a kindred literary spirit. The novel’s pace plods a bit in the second half but never fully becomes slothful, and even that modest lethargy is more than compensated for by the intelligence and refinement of the prose. 

A sublimely sensitive war tale rendered in exquisite language. 

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-60489-217-8

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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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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MAGIC HOUR

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Sisters work together to solve a child-abandonment case.

Ellie and Julia Cates have never been close. Julia is shy and brainy; Ellie gets by on charm and looks. Their differences must be tossed aside when a traumatized young girl wanders in from the forest into their hometown in Washington. The sisters’ professional skills are put to the test. Julia is a world-renowned child psychologist who has lost her edge. She is reeling from a case that went publicly sour. Though she was cleared of all wrongdoing, Julia’s name was tarnished, forcing her to shutter her Beverly Hills practice. Ellie Barton is the local police chief in Rain Valley, who’s never faced a tougher case. This is her chance to prove she is more than just a fading homecoming queen, but a scarcity of clues and a reluctant victim make locating the girl’s parents nearly impossible. Ellie places an SOS call to her sister; she needs an expert to rehabilitate this wild-child who has been living outside of civilization for years. Confronted with her professional demons, Julia once again has the opportunity to display her talents and salvage her reputation. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love, 2004, etc.) is at her best when writing from the girl’s perspective. The feral wolf-child keeps the reader interested long after the other, transparent characters have grown tiresome. Hannah’s torturously over-written romance passages are stale, but there are surprises in store as the sisters set about unearthing Alice’s past and creating a home for her.

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-46752-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

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