An often fun, if overpopulated, novel featuring bawdy melodrama, derring-do and political intrigue.

Tea and Tyranny: Still Shaggin' in Boston

Johnson’s (The Seeds of Love...and War: Still Shaggin’ for a Shillin’, 2009, etc.) most recent historical novel views the American Revolution through the eyes of the Founding Fathers—after tankards of ale and trysts with waterfront doxies.

One of the more impressive and confounding aspects of this novel is the size and scope of its cast. The characters include such real-life luminaries as Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Paul Revere, as well as various fictional workingmen and -women of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, including Big Bessie Clump and Amanda Griffith (of the Bunch of Grapes Tavern and the Snug Harbor Tavern, respectively); candle maker Zeke Teezle; and Amos, an African-American barman. Some 25 characters populate the narrative, most driven by the pursuit of liberty and following the axiom “that men are driven to drink if they are mad, sad, happy or horny.” According to the novel’s opening lines, “the doctrines of liberty and tyranny, superstition and enlightenment, wealth and poverty were clashing.” The overarching plot, framed by the Boston Massacre (1770) and the Boston Tea Party (1773), focuses on the political and economic, as well as the libidinous, tensions of the time. Adams, Hancock and Revere frequent houses of ill repute, away from the prying eyes of Tory spies, as they hatch a plan to oust their Colonial oppressors and the administration of Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson. One intriguing technique they employ is propaganda; for example, when Revere unveils his now-famous engraving of the Boston Massacre, Adams recommends adding “a few musket barrels sticking out of the second story windows” of the local Custom House; Hancock requests that a sign on that building be changed to read “Butcher’s Hall,” a move that another character says “guarantees a noose will be placed around the necks of those redcoats—and perhaps a customs officer for good measure.” However, Johnson’s female characters, and their overexposed décolletage, transform this story of the American Revolution into a Gothic tale reminiscent of a Hammer horror film, in which women with perky bosoms are paired off with bloodthirsty, lusty men. Ultimately, Johnson’s apparent effort to expose the differences between the classes largely consists of filles de joie conspiring to lure the men of Boston into the sack.

An often fun, if overpopulated, novel featuring bawdy melodrama, derring-do and political intrigue.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-1500387624

Page Count: 676

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

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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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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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