CLOUD CHAMBER

Dorris's first solo novel in almost a decade is a partial prequel to his successful A Yellow Raft in Blue Water (1987), and a generational saga that celebrates the enduring power of family ties. It begins in western Ireland in the mid-19th century, with Rose Mannion's struggle to choose between the charismatic lover who has betrayed ``the Cause'' (of Irish independence) and the decent man her family and townspeople urge her to prefer. A half-century later, Rose's sons Andrew (a priest) and Robert are the two halves of a dilemma that frustrates Robert's dissatisfied wife Bridie (a terrific character: hard as nails, yet helplessly in thrall to the one man she cannot have). The story moves ahead with scarcely credible speed (a major flaw in Dorris's otherwise efficiently constructed narrative) to the 1930s when Robert, recovering from illness and amnesia, makes the reacquaintance of Bridie and their daughters Edna and Marcella, in the American Midwest, to which the family has been rather summarily transplanted. The novel finds its footing in a beautifully detailed and extended contrast between Edna's stoical common sense and Marcella's somewhat flighty romantic nature—expressed in the ailing Marcella's impulsive marriage to a handsome young black man she meets while recuperating in the sanitarium where Edna works as a nurse's aid. The focus then shifts to Marcella's son Elgin, his Army experiences in Germany in the 1960s (during which he learns some disturbing truths about his father's reported death in wartime), and thereafter to Elgin's daughter Rayona (a major character in Yellow Raft). Though it's all a teensy bit contrived and too hurried to be fully convincing, the tale is gripping, thanks to Dorris's empathy for the ethnic diversity and solidarity that give his characters their strength, and to a skillfully varied succession of voices, all quite distinctive. A little of John O'Hara, and rather more of A.J. Cronin, here, but the story's details will draw you in and keep you reading. (Book-of-the-Month Club/Quality Paperback Book Club alternate selection; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-81567-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1996

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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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Soft-focus story moves right along with few surprises. This time around, Hannah avoids the soap-opera complications of her...

DISTANT SHORES

Another middle-aged mom in a muddle.

After years of false starts and big hopes, Elizabeth’s ruggedly handsome husband Jack, a former football star, just landed a spot as a sportscaster on national news. He still loves her, even though much younger women are giving him come-hither looks. Heck, he doesn’t want to betray the love of his life after she helped him kick drugs and stuck by him even when he was a struggling has-been. And won’t it seem hypocritical if he fools around with his sexy assistant while he does in-depth reporting on a rape case involving a famous basketball center? Well, he fools around anyway. Elizabeth, nicknamed Birdie, knows nothing of this, but she withdraws from Jack when her hard-drinking, salt-of-the-earth father has a stroke and dies. Now no one will call her “sugar beet” ever again. Time to return home to Tennessee and contend with Anita, the sort-of-evil stepmother so trashy she wears pink puffy slippers all day long. Naturally, it turns out that Anita actually has a heart of gold and knows a few things about Birdie’s dead mother that were hushed up for years. Mom was an artist, just like Birdie, and an old scandal comes to light as Anita unrolls a vibrant canvas that portrays her secret lover. Perhaps, Birdie muses, her mother died of heartbreak, never having followed her true love or developed her talent. Has she, too, compromised everything she holds dear? Hoping to find out, Birdie joins a support group that promises to reconnect confused women with their passion. She and Jack separate, prompting a how-dare-you fit from their grown daughters. Will Birdie fly her empty nest? Will she go back to college for a degree in art? Will her brooding watercolors ever sell?

Soft-focus story moves right along with few surprises. This time around, Hannah avoids the soap-opera complications of her previous tales (Summer Island, 2001, etc.).

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-345-45071-X

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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