This book offers up a worthy mystery just short of gripping, along with an insider’s tour of the dark underground of the...


A mystery involving a real-life rocker, a perfume that will knock you out and a cast of characters ranging from drug-crazed Italians and mist-making Persians to wannabe musicians and star-struck Jersey girls.

Levine’s first novel, billed as book one in the Spec Time Trilogy, takes the reader through four fictionalized days in the life of rocker Jon Cells. But the rock’n’roll mystery really involves a U.S. Customs/FBI/NYPD investigation, a botched raid of a Persian perfume family and the Italian brothers who stole some of their intoxicating Princess Mist formula. The mystery carries through right to the last chapter, failing to keep the reader on the edge of his seat only because of side stories involving a dozen other characters, descriptions (sometimes repeated) that slow the story and digressions that provide interesting details but don’t necessarily lead anywhere. Levine puts forth Cells as the book’s hero, but where does he fit into the action? Cells works for Laden Imports (the Persian perfume factory) at a job (required by his probation—another story) he barely tolerates. His real interests are sex, drugs and rock and roll—and violence (he has a nasty temper). The real Jon Cells (born John Edward Neulinger, aka Jon Neulin or Slide) had a brief underground career in Denver, New York and Los Angeles. Lyrics from several tracks of his Cracked House album creep (or stomp) into Levine’s narrative, and Levine’s obvious appreciation of Cells generates some tantalizing sentences: “Jon’s long, raspy, blood-curdling screech capped the insanity-tinged climax of ‘Mental Disorder’ with a mesmerizing urgency that unraveled in a frenzy of strangled lead notes, blistering bass runs, and piercing cymbal crashes, eventually ending in abrupt sonic seizure.” Still, Cells plays only a marginal role in the story, perhaps a reflection of his marginalized relationship with society. With any luck, we’ll be able to follow him through the rest of his short life (he died in 1994 at the age of 44) in the next installments of Levine’s trilogy. For now, this book, especially chapter 67, would be best enjoyed with Cracked House cranked up in the background.

This book offers up a worthy mystery just short of gripping, along with an insider’s tour of the dark underground of the early 1980s New York City music scene.

Pub Date: May 26, 2011

ISBN: 978-0983360803

Page Count: 508

Publisher: Forcefield Studios

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

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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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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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