FOUR OF A KIND

Four women approaching middle age find insight and inspiration at the poker table, in Frankel’s breezy latest (It’s Hard Not to Hate You, 2010, etc.).

To form the new PTA diversity committee at her sons’ elite Brooklyn Heights private school, blond yummy-mummy Bess chooses three other mothers as different from herself as possible. There’s Carla, an African-American pediatrician who, with her manipulative husband Claude, is struggling to afford the high tuition that will keep their sons from slipping out of the middle class. Robin, who lives off her inheritance, was once obese. Slim post-stomach-staple, she’s looking on in horror as daughter Stephanie, conceived in a one-night stand with a suspected “chubby-chaser,” must wear a size 14 at age 10. Advertising copywriter Alicia, whose son Joe was born after a long struggle with infertility, is going through a sexual dry spell: Her husband Tim, a stay-at-home dad, seems to have lost all conjugal interest. The first meeting of these four takes an unexpected turn: Bess announces they will play Texas Hold ’Em, but, in deference to the bad economy, the stakes will be not money but secrets. She herself reveals the hidden flaws in her outwardly perfect life: Unlike Tim, Bess’ Wall Street insider husband Borden is oversexed. Her mother, Simone, a second-wave feminist icon, is trying to drive a wedge between Bess and teenage daughter Amy. As the poker nights progress, diversity in the politically correct sense is never discussed: instead the women find that their new connection is more and more crucial as each faces turning points, including Claude’s impending job loss, Alicia’s affair with a younger colleague, the unexpected reappearance of Robin’s chubby-chaser in her and Stephanie’s lives, Amy’s increasing slovenliness and declaration of lesbian leanings and Borden’s depression following his father’s death. Although the closing empowerment scenarios are a bit pat, the poker conceit is an artful framing device, and the four women and their dilemmas are portrayed with Frankel’s trademark witty empathy.

 

Pub Date: March 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-345-52540-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

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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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