A beautiful pair of love stories and a thrilling peek into a lost world.


In this debut novel’s two parallel tales about a Florida tribe, a young man struggles to overcome grave danger to be with the woman he loves. 

In 1513, Willow is 20 years old and a member of the Calusa Tribe that has occupied Florida for millennia. While out fishing, he catches a massive snook—the biggest one ever snared in Calusa history, a distinction that makes him widely known and admired. As a result, the king grants Willow a wish, and he chooses to take a series of tests to join the Wiseman Council, the “most revered club in the nation.” While Willow passes the prohibitively difficult exams, securing an important role in tribal political life, he’s much more excited about pursuing a relationship with Cylee, the “most beautiful woman in the Calusa nation.” But the Spanish are preparing to invade, and Willow’s duty is to risk his life to join the fight against their advances. Watkins artfully places this story alongside another strikingly similar one set two centuries later, in 1710. Again the protagonist is named Willow, and he’s elevated to the status of a “national hero” when he bravely defeats a company of Spanish soldiers with the assistance of his friend Bonee. This Willow is also elevated to the Wiseman Council and is revered by many as a “god in disguise.” He falls in love with a princess, Leah, and is made a prince himself, a conversion that allows him to marry the girl for whom he’s pined for years. But in this second plot, the danger to this union isn’t war but the spread of a disease carried by the Spanish that proves deadly to the Calusa, a terrible turn of events affectingly described by the author. Watkins vividly brings to life the intriguing culture of the Calusa and manages to fit two moving tales of love into one brief novel. His prose is plain and sparing but precise and powerful, though the dialogue, especially in the second narrative, can be earnestly wooden. The author provocatively raises questions about the inescapability of destiny but wisely withholds any facile answers, permitting readers the liberty to ponder them on their own. 

A beautiful pair of love stories and a thrilling peek into a lost world. 

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-69735-471-3

Page Count: 215

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2019

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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