A rock novel good enough to wish you had an accompanying soundtrack.

HOW THE MISTAKES WERE MADE

Seattle rocker Laura Loss, one-time teen bass player in her brother's successful early-'80s hardcore punk band SCC, recalls her ascent to grunge queen—and her descent into rock tabloid infamy—as drummer of the legendary '90s band the Mistakes.

Inspired by the spectacular rise and tragic demise of Nirvana, McMahon's first novel skillfully captures two rock movements. Brief flashbacks of SCC, whose story ends when Laura's stage-diving brother Anthony is brutally beaten by a skinhead, are interwoven with the story of the Mistakes, the accidental band that brings her out of retirement. She's working in a coffee shop when she meets two flannel-shirted, SCC-loving hayseeds from Montana: Sean, a withdrawn soul and genius guitarist who sees sounds as colors, and Nathan, a singer and bassist with a gift for writing intense lyrics about their messy lives. We see Laura go from being a reluctant den mother who agrees to help "the boys" start up a group to excited participant in the trio's unique, razor-edged sound—and sexual partners with Sean, whom she doesn't love, and then Nathan, whom she does. On the verge of making it big, the band derails following a physical altercation with a label executive. They sign with a label with troublesome commercial designs and discover that Sean, whose signature move is to fall from a height onto his guitar, isn't the same guitarist after he sobers up. Haunted by the fate of her brother, who remains in a vegetative state, Laura is determined to save Sean from a bad fate but ultimately can't—any more than she can save herself from being held bitterly accountable for the end of the Mistakes. McMahon stays in an enviable comfort zone: He never strains for effect or tries to sell his characters as myths, as much as they may resonate with the Kurt Cobains and Courtney Loves of the world. His female narration is so good, there is a Lorrie Moore–ness to Laura's intelligence, self-awareness and self-deprecating wit. And the descriptions of the performances give you a feel for why fans went crazy over the Mistakes.

A rock novel good enough to wish you had an accompanying soundtrack.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-312-65854-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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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