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THE GOOD NEIGHBOR

An uneven fourth outing by Kowalski (The Adventures of Flash Jackson, 2003, etc.), with a unique and nicely textured...

An engaging if overwritten tale about a Manhattan couple changed by a house in the country.

On a Sunday drive, Coltrane and Francie Hart, a severely mismatched pair (she’s a medicated manic-depressive and lapsed poet; he’s a Type-A stock trader) stumble on their dream house. Francie sees it as a place to resume writing poetry; Colt as a weekend spot for entertaining colleagues. On moving day, Francie realizes she’s forgotten her medication and decides to try life without it. Implausibly, the only result is that her judgment is clearer—and she begins to see Colt for the unfeeling monster he is. When Francie discovers the diary of Marly Musgrove, the mid-19th-century woman of the house, she realizes there’s a cemetery in back filled with Musgrove bodies. The result: Colt insists they be removed, angering a next-door neighbor who’s a relative of the buried family. The neighbor kidnaps Colt and forces him to collect the displaced remains from a junkyard. Colt ends up in the hospital, where morphine-induced dreams about his own judgment day lead him to an extreme and unlikely turn. He helps his dying father get out of prison (after spending the last several years pretending he was dead); drops the charges against the neighbor; and apologizes to Francie. Colt is the novel’s weakest link, and, unfortunately, gets the most attention; by the time he turns over a new leaf, he’s already been portrayed as so emotionally detached that it’s difficult to believe (or care about) his new self. Throughout, the Musgroves’ tragedy-laden family history, including a well-paced revelation about a murder in the family, is skillfully woven into the story, and serves as an interesting backdrop to Francie and Colt’s domestic trials. But Kowalski’s eye for detail and character is so much stronger in the Musgrove passages that one wishes the Harts were nearly as believable and compelling.

An uneven fourth outing by Kowalski (The Adventures of Flash Jackson, 2003, etc.), with a unique and nicely textured historical subplot that’s outweighed by the plodding tone and somewhat convoluted main story.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-621137-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2004

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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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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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