Yanagihara presents a cautionary tale about what can happen when Western arrogance meets primeval culture.

THE PEOPLE IN THE TREES

An instance of that rare subgenre of literature, the anthropological novel, in which Norton Perina, winner of the Nobel Prize in medicine, traces the early part of his life, when he helped both discover and destroy a lost tribe.

Yanagihara does everything she can to establish verisimilitude in this novel, so much so that the reader will be Googling names of characters to see if they’re “really real.” The movement toward ultrarealism extends to footnotes and an appendix provided by Ronald Kubodera, whose friendship with Perina extends even into the sad period when the Nobel Prize winner was convicted of sexual abuse involving some of the tribal children he brought back with him. Kubodera provides a preface in which he vigorously defends Perina, and then the narrative is turned over to Perina’s memoirs, which take us back to his Midwestern upbringing, his rivalry with his brother Owen, his graduation from Harvard Medical School and almost immediate hire by the anthropologist Paul Tallent. Along with his assistant Esme Duff, Paul takes Perina to U’ivu, a constellation of remote islands in the South Pacific. Perina becomes immediately fascinated with Ivu’ivu, an island that harbors a small tribe, a number of whom are well over 100  years old. Perina traces this longevity to the eating of an opa’ivu’eke, a sacred turtle whose meat is consumed in certain ritualistic practices. Determined to find out the secret of immortality, Perina brings back three Ivu'ivuian "dreamers" with him and smuggles an opa’ivu’eke into his lab at Stanford.

Yanagihara presents a cautionary tale about what can happen when Western arrogance meets primeval culture.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-385-53677-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2013

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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