A timely environmental tale with a strong cast.

I’VE GOT A RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES

Native Americans in Arizona oppose a mining operation in this ecological novel.

Tom Rogers, a semicommitted environmentalist, is the editor of the Halston Gazette in southern Arizona. Unfortunately the paper’s owner/publisher is Tom’s father, “the Rhino,” a domineering, self-made right-winger. (The Rhino bought the paper to give his floundering son some purpose.) Tom’s one reporter is Dilip Chakraborty, an Indian immigrant and a tenacious newshound. And Tom’s love interest is Jinny, a talented (and of course beautiful) artist of mixed Navajo and Tohono O’odham descent. Other characters drift in and out like static on a bad radio station. The setup is that an Australian concern wants to level a mountain sacred to the Tohono O’odham for open-pit copper mining. And the Native Americans are not alone in their opposition. Still, the fix seems to be in. That is until bulldog Dilip gets his teeth into it. Readers also have the love story of Tom and Jinny—Jinny’s ex-husband is a “skinwalker,” a shape-shifting medicine man—and a lot of helpful background in Southwestern history and geography. (There is a standoff with the ex-husband in Canyon de Chelly.) The book is narrated in retrospect by Tom from his cabin on the Mogollon Rim, where he has retreated to lick his wounds, which is a good delaying device for the story. Smith—who also writes under the name Moose Eliot (Heaven Help Us All, 2013, etc.)—sets his tale in an intriguing locale both geographically and culturally. He keeps the story moving, and the writing has its moments, though it can get precious (“volupt” for voluptuous?). But his love of the Southwestern landscape comes through. His vivid descriptions transcend tourism clichés (“We…looked into what seemed the basement of the world. Miniature-seeming stands of juniper and mesquite dotted the soft, tan earth of the Canyon’s broad floor….Embracing all, rising all around, towering sandstone cliffs ran from clay red to dark ochres; taller than skyscrapers, they were unreal in their lithic grandeur”). But given the nature of the story’s theme, nuance is not Smith’s strong suit. That is, the rants on both sides sometimes seem scripted and stilted. But that comes with the (ecological) territory. Ultimately, he succeeds in making his characters three-dimensional, not just cardboard cutouts. So there is much to recommend in these pages, a book that’s earnest without being dead earnest.

A timely environmental tale with a strong cast.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9984847-0-9

Page Count: 330

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2017

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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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