A clever story of midlife dysfunction set on a Mexican vacation gone awry.

FOUR CALLING BURDS

A family vacation in Mexico goes off the rails for four adult siblings in this literary novel from Meis (Deluge, 2016, etc.).

Following the death of their mother after a protracted illness, the four adult Burd children decide to take a vacation together in the Mexican resort town of Puerto Vallarta—the site of their parents’ honeymoon. “No spouses. No kids,” insists M, the oldest daughter. “Just the four of us together for the first time in ages. We deserve it. The last few months have been tough.” The trip gives the siblings a chance to discuss their various midlife crises—though what each says contains some surprises for the others. AJ, a mother of two, reveals that her marriage is threatened by her Trump-loving husband’s emerging bigotries. Lio is wracked with remorse for screwing up his marriage a decade ago, afraid he may never have the kind of relationship he’d like with his teenage daughter. Augie, a trivia-obsessed librarian, loves his husband and son, but he can’t help feeling tempted by a freer life in the middle of the famous “Mexican gay Mecca.” In the biggest shock of all, M, a child psychologist with a husband back home, reveals that she identifies as a man. When two of the siblings are kidnapped, however, the Burd family crises become significantly more pressing. Meis’ prose is lively and often funny, with the point of view bouncing back and forth among the four siblings. “Since my move to Modesto, Lio and I hadn’t gotten together as much as when we lived just a couple miles from each other in Oakland,” explains AJ. “If the kidnapping had a positive aspect, we had plenty of time to reminisce about our lives and talk about a future if there was to be one.” The setting and hostage situation breathe some fresh air into the familiar family-with-problems premise, and each of the four main characters is well drawn and engaging. The plot manages to be sincere yet lighthearted, resulting in a mostly rewarding reading experience with a few laughs along the way.

A clever story of midlife dysfunction set on a Mexican vacation gone awry.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9976728-4-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Vincent Meis Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2019

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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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