A paean to the tomato and a song of natural devotion.

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Flutes and Tomatoes

A MEMOIR WITH POEMS

An exploration of love’s loss and life’s recovery from Stevenson (The Color Symphonies, 2014, etc.).

This book, a combination of engaging memoir and unusual poetry, proves that quirkiness doesn’t preclude depth. The twin pole-stars of the work are simple objects—flutes and tomatoes—but its still life also includes a knife, a bottle of wine, and the interior of a small atelier in Paris. Composed in the immediate aftermath of a loved one’s death, this collection reveals the compulsive attention of extreme grief. In it, the author reminisces about a trip he took with his love, wandering the Loire Valley farms one glorious summer. But the only evidence of passion that remains now is a dozen tomatoes stolen from those farms, and the flute that the author’s love played so well. Faced with a sense of inertia, the author believed that grappling on to something solid might help: “The only thing that would make a difference would be if I could find some objective proof of love….if I chose an object of my affection and tried to understand it as no one had understood it before.” The subject was right there on the table, red and ripening: “William Blake said he could see eternity in a grain of sand. Why not in the seed of a tomato?” In Stevenson’s provocative verse, the fruits themselves connote a fleshy voluptuousness: “Tenderly, with blind / Fingers you touch the precious skin / As it swells and dilates / Like some enormous empty heart.” But beyond the author’s rich metaphors, the objective fact of the tomatoes drives the book’s credibility: “I have written so much about the tomatoes / They at last have become the REAL REAL.” In the end, the author penetrates his subject with a knifelike concentration, which grants him acceptance of his own plight; ready for a new start, he writes of going up the steps of his basement apartment into the busy streets of a new life. Readers should take a chance on this work, and not let the unusual focus dissuade them. 

A paean to the tomato and a song of natural devotion.

Pub Date: May 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-60964-221-1

Page Count: 102

Publisher: BlazeVOX

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2015

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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