HALF ASLEEP IN FROG PAJAMAS

Robbins's wordy, phantasmagoric smorgasbord reveals a master chef filigreeing and flaying with utmost skill, But hungry readers will ultimately wonder, "Where's the beef?" His latest multilayered, zeitgeist-rich romp (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, 1976, etc.) focuses on Gwendolyn, a money-obsessed Seattle stockbroker we meet on the day the market crashes. That same day Gwendolyn's boyfriend's born-again, formerly thieving pet monkey runs away; an arrogant tall dark stranger, an ex-stockbroker who has rectal cancer and who has come back from Africa with cosmic knowledge as to why frogs are disappearing around the world, insinuates himself into her life; her best friend/psychic, a 300-pound woman, vanishes into thin air; and a mysterious Japanese doctor comes to town to tell the world about his simple cure for colon cancer. Over the weekend Gwendolyn tries to find the monkey and her friend; at the same time she must choose between running off with the stranger, or staying with her stable boyfriend and salvaging her ruined career. Robbins mixes his trademark lighthearted turns of phrase — "the way he pronounces your name, like William S. Burroughs ordering a root beer float, sends a shudder through your lungs" — with a plot that involves global issues like environmental and economic degradation, cancer and AIDS, violence between rich and poor. But some of the serious threads are used solely to lead the reader to shaggy-dog potty jokes. The all-knowing, smug narrator tells us that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and mystic solutions are hinted at, but all we get is a leering, smiley-face conclusion that says, Don't worry be happy, drop out, cure yourself, go get stoned in some far off place, and hope that you will have a cosmic revelation. Fans may initially be enthralled by a literary Oz's grand, terrifying show, but there's nothing but a smirking stoner behind the curtain.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-553-07625-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1994

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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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