A contemporary of the French New Novelists, Gombrowicz (Bacacay, 2004, etc.) may well be the missing link between Nikolai...

COSMOS

Like William Blake’s poetry, Gombrowicz’s darkly puckish novel, first published in Poland in 1965, strives to see the world in a mustard seed—and neither the attempt nor the results are pretty.

The narrator, casually identifying himself as Witold, is a student traveling through the Koscieliska region on vacation. Together with Fuks, another student, he finds a sparrow hanging from a tree in the woods outside the rooming house run by the Wojtys family. It’s obviously an omen, but the narrator’s preoccupation with its meaning is only the opening round in a series of ever more puzzling obsessions. He can’t help seeing an unspecified “relation” between the mouth of Katasia, the pension’s housekeeper, misshapen by a car accident but somehow erotic, and the more normal but inseparable mouth of Lena Wojtys, the daughter of the household. He’s fascinated by the wire mesh over an ashtray in the parlor. When Lena points out a crack in the dining room ceiling that looks like an arrow, he finds a remarkably similar arrow in the ceiling of the room he shares with Fuks. Other characters seem scarcely less obsessive. The master of the house constantly coins nonsense words he repeats more and more compulsively. Fuks’s only topic of conversation is his mistreatment by his boss Drozdowski, who never appears. When Lena’s cat is strangled and hanged like the sparrow, the narrator is as bewildered as everyone else. The answer—what answer there is—lies in the future, not the past. Long before the stunningly inconclusive fadeout, though, readers will have given up hope that these monstrous minutiae will ever yield the clear-cut meaning the narrator demands.

A contemporary of the French New Novelists, Gombrowicz (Bacacay, 2004, etc.) may well be the missing link between Nikolai Gogol and Nicholson Baker.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-300-10848-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2005

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner

  • National Book Award Finalist

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Laymon moves us dazzlingly (and sometimes bewilderingly) from 1964 to 1985 to 2013 and incorporates themes of prejudice,...

LONG DIVISION

A novel within a novel—hilarious, moving and occasionally dizzying.

Citoyen “City” Coldson is a 14-year-old wunderkind when it comes to crafting sentences. In fact, his only rival is his classmate LaVander Peeler. Although the two don’t get along, they’ve qualified to appear on the national finals of the contest "Can You Use That Word in a Sentence," and each is determined to win. Unfortunately, on the nationally televised show, City is given the word “niggardly” and, to say the least, does not provide a “correct, appropriate or dynamic usage” of the word as the rules require. LaVander similarly blows his chance with the word “chitterlings,” so both are humiliated, City the more so since his appearance is available to all on YouTube. This leads to a confrontation with his grandmother, alas for City, “the greatest whupper in the history of Mississippi whuppings.” Meanwhile, the principal at City’s school has given him a book entitled Long Division. When City begins to read this, he discovers that the main character is named City Coldson, and he’s in love with a Shalaya Crump...but this is in 1985, and the contest finals occurred in 2013. (Laymon is nothing if not contemporary.) A girl named Baize Shephard also appears in the novel City is reading, though in 2013, she has mysteriously disappeared a few weeks before City’s humiliation. Laymon cleverly interweaves his narrative threads and connects characters in surprising and seemingly impossible ways.

Laymon moves us dazzlingly (and sometimes bewilderingly) from 1964 to 1985 to 2013 and incorporates themes of prejudice, confusion and love rooted in an emphatically post-Katrina world.

Pub Date: June 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-932841-72-5

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Bolden/Agate

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more