More jaded and demanding than most American domestic tragicomedies, this novel packs a surprising emotional wallop, raising...

COUPLE MECHANICS

The title perfectly captures the tone of French author Alard’s second novel, which examines a marriage in crisis as if it were a working, or perhaps broken, machine.

In 2003, techie Juliette and her husband, Olivier, are the Parisian equivalents of Brooklynites, raising their two adored children in a formerly rough but gentrifying Parisian neighborhood where they are surrounded by a circle of like-minded, urbane friends. Then Olivier announces that for three weeks he’s been sleeping with a socialist politician he met in his work as a reporter. Olivier says he wants to stay married but needs time to break things off with emotionally fragile Victoire. Juliette hasn’t forgotten that days after their first kiss, Olivier betrayed her by meeting another woman; he and Juliette didn’t get back together for three years. Looking back, it would be easy to blame Olivier for his pattern of betrayal, but as he and Juliette struggle to repair their relationship, overtly simple explanations become tangled in the complexity of their connection to and resentments against each other. Olivier has acted abominably and remains difficult to trust, but Juliette—despite a history that includes her father’s abandonment when she was 5, an abortion, and a rape—refuses to let anyone consider her a victim. As much as she wants to fall to pieces, she doesn’t. Alard records the couple’s evolution moment to moment—internal thoughts, endless conversations, and a range of telling gestures—in obsessively minute detail. For Juliette, sex becomes an expression of feelings but also a tool. Olivier backslides with phone calls and meetings that he at first hides from Juliette as he gradually disengages from Victoire. Page by page, the marriage’s survival is uncertain.

More jaded and demanding than most American domestic tragicomedies, this novel packs a surprising emotional wallop, raising questions about the natures of passion and marriage within the context of early-21st-century French politics with references to France’s Muslim veil controversy and Simone de Beauvoir.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59051-731-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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