MINESTRONE

A RUTH KRAUSS COLLECTION.

. . ."in a poem you make your point with lemons-on-fire." In a review, even a Kirkus review, it is necessary to be more prosaically straightforward. What, then, given this recycled collection of items as disparate as the elements in any one of them, are we to make of Ruth Krauss? There's a shade of '60s twee (admittedly staked out by Krauss in the '50s) to the best of her stuff; and at worst it verges on airy nothings as in "What a Fine Day," when stripped of the original music and Remy Charlip pictures. . . or treads a blurry line around the kingdom of cute baby talk ("Making Sandwich Kisses") or cotton-candy fancies ("The Doll in Pink"). Whimsy sprouts like button mushrooms and threatens perpetually to cloy, and sometimes does. How else can one respond to "The Fortune-Teller Flower?" But then, who can keep a straight face through "50,000 Dogwood Trees at Valley Forge". . . or (let's admit it) "Spring Song: Winnie-the-Pooh and William Shakespeare?" Or fail to be disarmed by the flashes of wanton incongruity in "Play I" (with pineapples and spies) or "There's a Little Ambiguity Over There Among the Bluebells?" Much of the kid stuff was better served in separate, picture-hook slices, and ". . . but for whom" is the obvious cavil here, with all the little kisses and wishes and horsies in their avant-garde clothing scattered in among the weary rue of "If Only," the allusions to Shakespeare's married-man cuckoo, and the lines from Gertrude Stein and Molly Bloom. The publishers designate this for "all ages," which is often an optimistic 'alternative to throwing up their hands. But if this doesn't belong everywhere, or even anywhere in particular, you'd better make a place for it somewhere over there among the bluebells. Someone's likely to be lit up by those lemons-on-fire and might even take a heady dive into that "lake in the middle of a sentence.

Pub Date: Aug. 10, 1981

ISBN: 0688005985

Page Count: 110

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 24, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1981

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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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