Strong, warm, and engaging.

THE SECRET LETTERS OF MARILYN MONROE AND JACQUELINE KENNEDY

Pop biographer Leigh (Liza, 1993, etc.) switches gears for a richly researched and oddly successful novel about fictional letters between Marilyn and Jackie.

Leigh’s off-the-wall inspiration works largely because she captures the writing voices of these two icons almost pitch-perfectly in nearly every sentence (though Jackie makes a comment or two we might doubt). The correspondence opens way back at the start of Marilyn’s career, just as Jackie marries Jack, who has already bedded the starlet. That’s in 1953: Jack is fresh and young, but both women are even younger (Marilyn by nine years, Jackie by twelve) and have father-hungers for the charismatic senator from Massachusetts. Jackie had libidinous chats with her own dad about his philandering, while orphaned Marilyn never lived with her father but fixated on Clark Gable, kissing a bedside photo of him throughout childhood. The author slyly leads us into the correspondence with letters from Patrice (Patty) Renoir, who was given the whole batch in a sealed Max Factor box a week before Marilyn died. Patty gave Marilyn Brazilian wax jobs on her pubic hair each time she had a tryst coming up with Jack (known to Patty only as “Mr. G.”) because he loved the prepubescent little-girl look. Throughout the correspondence, Leigh peppers each outstanding event or fact with footnotes from the vast Marilyn/Jackie literature, inventing an occasional gossipy confidant or stolidly solemn reference work. The footnotes give the novel a weird reality and make it the best fictional realization of Marilyn since Sam Toperoff’s dead-on Queen of Desire (1992), with impressive sexual understanding.

Strong, warm, and engaging.

Pub Date: April 25, 2003

ISBN: 0-312-30368-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2003

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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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