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EXILES IN THE GARDEN

The least substantive of Just’s recent novels.

Old men’s memories of making history overshadow their children’s less dramatic lives.

A U.S. senator for 54 years, Kim Malone was, like his idol FDR, a liberal Democrat, a mover and shaker. Now Kim lies dying in a Virginia hospital, visited by his only child, Alec. His son disappointed Kim twice: by not following him into politics, and then, after becoming a well-regarded news photographer, by refusing an assignment in Vietnam. Despite these past disagreements, and their temperamental differences, father and son share a deep affection. Adopting different viewpoints, veteran political novelist Just (Forgetfulness, 2006, etc.) narrates with his trademark urbanity, moving from Kim’s memories to those of Alec and his wife Lucia. Czech by origin, Swiss by upbringing, she too had an activist parent; her mother, a socialist, held salons in Zurich while the outdoorsy Lucia skied competitively until a severe accident changed her life. She was an au pair in the Washington home of the Swiss ambassador when she met Alec in the early 1960s. They married, had a daughter and bought a house in Georgetown. Then, over the fence, Lucia hears cocktail-party chatter from the Central European exiles of the title. It acts as a siren song for Lucia. She falls in love with Nikolas, a Hungarian professor/novelist, and they elope to Switzerland. Though devastated, Alec does not fight for her. He’s an enigma, everyone agrees, and that’s OK—so was Iago. But Othello’s treacherous ensign was an enigma in action, while Alec is mired in passivity, a dull character in an unexamined marriage. A second old man restores some energy to this ragged story line. In a blatant contrivance, Lucia’s long-disappeared father Andre shows up in a Washington boardinghouse. His experience as a partisan in Yugoslavia, fighting the fascists in World War II, bookends Kim’s fights in the Senate; both men were committed to the struggle in a way Alec never managed to be.

The least substantive of Just’s recent novels.

Pub Date: July 7, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-547-19558-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2009

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A LITTLE LIFE

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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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FIREFLY LANE

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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