GOING UNDER

Luvaas (The Seductions of Natalie Bach, 1986) takes the story of a family in dysfunctional breakdown and muddies it terribly through the use of different narrators. Aunt Debbie speaks first, diving into an incoherent story about flooding rains when she and her sister Jerri were younger. The rest of the cast is introduced in rapid succession: Jerri's philandering husband, Don; Don's son Olson, from a previous marriage; and Jerri and Don's children, Meena and Jeff. Debbie, Meena, and Jeff then trade off narratives (although Meena's are in the third person), often repeating the same stories without adding any new insight. Jerri is quickly losing her mind and falling deeper into drinking. Don is casual enough about his wife's decline to leave a message for Debbie (a stewardess) that reads ``CALL URGENT. JERRI'S FLIPPED. LOVE, DON'' and to make crude passes at his sister-in-law. (``My half-brother, Olson, claimed Dad finger- jobbed Aunt Debbie,'' Jeff reports.) Meena begins losing her mind and believes that she is a spider. Even a stint at Tranquility Acres can't dry Jerri out completely. The family moves from Oregon to California, but nothing much changes, and hints of sexual abuse in the past and the present—including a false accusation—barely move the plot along. The language used by all the characters sounds inauthentic: Debbie has a fondness for unnatural expressions like ``shit crystals''; Jerri's dialogue is awkwardly written to convey slurring (``Don' you ged it?''); and Meena favors slang like ``retro'' and ``weirdso-nerdso.'' Luvaas seems to want to confuse. At one point he has Olson befriend a boy named Olsen so that readers need constantly to recall which is which. In one of the few bits of outside context given, Jerri is described wearing a ``Jackie Kennedy suit,'' so this is presumably set in the 1960s. But this is an insular, claustrophobic tale told in choppy sentences by an author who takes sophomoric delight in silly, dirty language. Hard to follow and hard to swallow.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 1994

ISBN: 0-399-13968-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

FIREFLY LANE

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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