OF LOVE AND OTHER DEMONS

A bittersweet-comic version of all living things anchors this enchanting short novel by the acknowledged master of magical realism (Strange Pilgrims, 1993, etc.). In fiat, reportorial tones (perfectly captured in Grossman's eloquent translation), the 1982 Nobel — winner spins an extravagant tale of ethnic contrast and cosmic dislocation, set in a Colombian-like South American backwater near the Caribbean Sea. When 12-year-old Sierva Maria, only child of a desiccated marquis and his dissolute lowborn wife, is bitten by a rabid dog, the girl's mendacious disposition and unsophisticated demeanor are interpreted as signs of demonic possession. Held captive in an austere convent, she is denounced by a bigoted abbess, befriended by a kindly murderer, and adored from afar, then more intimately, by Father Cayetano Delaura, the diocese librarian whose surprised discovery of passion both complicates and transfigures his bookish, selfless existence. The tale of their thwarted love resonates down the years as a union of opposites that's all but anathema to a culture whose prosperity is built on a thriving slave trade and whose privileged classes live in fear that their servants will rise up and murder them in their beds. Garcia Marquez mockingly breaks down conventional barriers between not just masters and servants, but also whites and blacks, clergy and laity, humans and animals. This is a world in which bats drain the blood of sleeping humans, a 100-year-old horse is buried in holy ground, and a learned physician imperturbably straddles the metaphysical boundaries separating life and death. In a society distinguished by "so much mixing of bloodlines," it is implied, people and things blend into and become one another — despite the repressive exertions of wealth and power, and the delusory authority of a religion that sees demons in every instance of dissent or independence. Written with masterly economy, brimming with colorful episodes and vividly sketched characters: a haunting, cautionary tale that ranks among the author's best.

Pub Date: May 18, 1995

ISBN: 0-679-43853-X

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1995

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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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