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EIDETIC TRANSUBSTANTIATION

A NOVEL

A smart, discerning but protracted tale about an extraordinary man’s unique layers of memories.

A young Pentagon employee with a remarkable memory gets caught up in the Cuban Missile Crisis, among other adventures, in this novel.

Indiana native Michael Edwards has a photographic memory on steroids. It’s called eidetic memory and it helps him get a Ph.D. by the age of 22 and learn three foreign languages. In 1962, he is working in the photography room at the Pentagon, analyzing shots of enemy territory taken by U2 spy planes. His early success at spotting missile launchers in Cuba lands him a three-day gig as a “Pathfinder,” and he is dropped off in Cuba posing as a peasant farmer to get a firsthand look at the sites. His powers of observation and recall are so astonishing that President John F. Kennedy himself wants Michael in the Secret Service. After that administration’s tragic end, a childhood friend talks him into working undercover for the FBI at Berkeley, spying on student activists.  Michael convinces himself that his information will be useless and no lives will be ruined. But he sends a female friend and others to jail, leading to pangs of guilt. He needs to leave Berkeley and reinvent himself, a process he calls transubstantiation: “It gave me hope that despite this identity-less, hollow, black hole of regret that the whole Berkeley experience had sucked me into, maybe I could transubstantiate myself into a person that I could stomach.” An academic career follows, and marriage and fatherhood, but tragedy and wanderlust pull him overseas to Europe and back again. He traverses various life stages involving the dawn of the tech era and finds himself through a new love. Palmer’s (Two Cities, 2017, etc.) globe-hopping tale is written with a thirst for knowledge and a love of detail that make for an exciting read, especially because it’s about a character who is often on the forefront of new technology or fields. The overall point that people are not one thing but go through a variety of different incarnations is a strong one, especially because this sweeping story progresses through Michael’s retirement. But shifting between pensive and wild, the book is overwritten; a leaner, more concise style would have strengthened the skillful storytelling.

A smart, discerning but protracted tale about an extraordinary man’s unique layers of memories.

Pub Date: March 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68114-515-0

Page Count: 252

Publisher: Anaphora Literary Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2019

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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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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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