TWO LIVES

Trevor (Family Sins, etc.) provides genuine literary delight as well as book-buying value in this clever pairing of two novels under one title. The longer of the two, "Reading Turgenev," is also the more conventional—a somber tale of a woman who feigns madness in response to an oppressive "marriage of convenience." Mary Louise Dallon, the 21-year-old daughter of an impoverished Irish Protestant farmer, hopes to escape the boredom of country life by marrying "the only well-to-do Protestant for miles around." Elmer Quarry, almost twice Mary Louise's age, is a bald and paunchy tradesman who lives in town with his two mean and petty unmarried sisters. Not surprisingly, the marriage is doomed from the start, with Elmer unable to bring it to consummation and his sisters making daily life for Mary Louise a living hell. While kind and guilt-ridden Elmer retreats into the bottle, Mary Louise develops a wild passion for her sickly cousin who, on their secret trysts, reads her Russian novels. Their love remains chaste since the cousin dies suddenly, sending Mary Louise deeper into herself. Eventually, she's institutionalized, to be released decades later, all the while revisiting the scenes of her true love, the passages from Turgenev that stirred her soul. The narrator of "My House in Umbria" also escapes into literature—the formulaic romance novels she writes with much commercial success in her middle age. Her retreat from reality was occasioned by a life of hardship that's far more interesting than anything in her fiction. Sold at birth by her natural parents, her adoptive father began to abuse her sexually at an early age. Eventually, she becomes a prostitute in Africa, where she saves enough money to buy a villa in Italy and begin writing her books. Fate intrudes in a rude way when she survives an unclearly motivated bombing on an Italian train, undermining the serenity she found in writing. Vastly different in style and setting, the two stories converge thematically, testifying to the range of Trevor's talent and the singularity of his vision.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0140153721

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1991

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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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