Mildly amusing, but a work from the co-author of Billy Crystal’s current Broadway hit, 700 Sundays, could have packed more...

THE OTHER SHULMAN

This comic novel about a lovable loser who runs in a New York City Marathon is an adult first from Zweibel, Emmy-winning TV writer and author of Bunny Bunny (1994), a memoir of Gilda Radner.

Shulman is the middle-aged owner of a failing stationery store in Fort Lee, N.J. He’s overweight (248 pounds), has been likened to “Woody Allen with a glandular condition” and hates running. So when he announces his marathon entry, his older, successful brothers are contemptuous, his wife Paula plain baffled. But Shulman needs to escape the realities of bankruptcy and of a nonexistent sex life, and his sponsorship money will go to an AIDS project. The goodhearted Shulman, who has hastened his bankruptcy with freebies and markdowns, is in fact a self-made victim incapable of anger. But there’s the Other Shulman, the name he gives to his spitting image, first encountered on a running path when his super-aggressive double charged toward him, forcing him into the bushes. The Other Shulman, natch, owns a chain of stationery megastores, and he’ll continue to best Shulman at every turn. Does he really exist, or is he Shulman’s liberated id on a rampage? It doesn’t really matter, for this loose-jointed tale, alternating between the marathon and earlier comic diversions, pursues its comedy as erratically as Shulman pursues his training, from Shulman’s gig behind the scenes on a TV game show to his very public kiss with a fellow runner, another prelude to nothing. Zweibel injects a more serious note with the HIV-positive Coach Jeffrey, who before his sudden death dictates a letter to Shulman containing the usual self-help stuff (commit to your dream, etc.), preparing for the fairy-tale ending.

Mildly amusing, but a work from the co-author of Billy Crystal’s current Broadway hit, 700 Sundays, could have packed more of a punch.

Pub Date: July 12, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-6266-7

Page Count: 305

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2005

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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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