Nobody writing today surpasses the precocious Waters’s virtuosic handling of narrative complexity and thickly textured...

FINGERSMITH

Imagine a university-educated lesbian Charles Dickens with a similarly keen eye for mendacity and melodrama, and you’ll have some idea of the pleasures lurking in Waters’s impudent revisionist historicals: Tipping the Velvet (1999), Affinity (2000), and now this richly woven tale of duplicity, passion, and lots of other good stuff.

It begins as the narrative of 17-year-old Susan Trinder, an orphan resident of the criminal domicile run by Hogarthian Grace Sucksby, a Fagin-like “farmer” of discarded infants and den-mother to an extended family of “fingersmiths” (i.e., pickpockets) and assorted confidence-persons. One of the latter, Richard Rivers (a.k.a. “Gentleman”), engages Susan in an elaborate plot to fleece wealthy old Mr. Lilly, a connoisseur of rare books—as lady’s maid “Susan Smith” to Lilly’s niece and ward Maude, a “simple, natural” innocent who will be married off to “Mr. Rivers,” then disposed of in a madhouse, while the conspirators share her wealth. Maidservant and mistress grow unexpectedly close, until Gentleman’s real plan—a surprise no reader will see coming—leads to a retelling of events we’ve just witnessed, from a second viewpoint—which reveals the truth about Mr. Lilly’s bibliomania, and discloses to a second heroine that “Your life was not the life that you were meant to live.” (Misdirections and reversals are essential components of Waters’s brilliant plot, which must not be given away.) Further intrigues, escapes, and revelations climax when Susan (who has resumed her place as narrator) returns from her bizarre ordeal to Mrs. Sucksby’s welcoming den of iniquity, and a final twist of the knife precipitates another crime and its punishment, astonishing discoveries about both Maude and Susan (among others), and a muted reconciliation scene that ingeniously reshapes the conclusion of Dickens’s Great Expectations.

Nobody writing today surpasses the precocious Waters’s virtuosic handling of narrative complexity and thickly textured period detail. This is a marvelous novel.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2002

ISBN: 1-57322-203-8

Page Count: 493

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

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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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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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