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Behind Closed Doors

DANA'S STORY

From the Behind Closed Doors series , Vol. 2

An uncompromising but profound urban tale from an incisive author.

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After six years in prison, a woman victimized by the system and her loved ones seeks retribution in Smith’s (Behind Closed Doors, 2015) searing drama.

Dana Toussaint’s father, Bernard, may be a drug dealer, but he provides well for his family in 1980s East St. Louis. When he wants out of the business, though, Dana’s mother, Diana, forces him out of the house. Twelve-year-old Dana, her mother, and her three younger siblings move to an apartment in the projects, and Diana, accustomed to having money, does the unthinkable by pimping Dana out to the perverse Mr. James on a regular basis. Years later, the cocaine-addicted teenager becomes a stripper, but she manages to finally escape Mr. James thanks to Tyree, whom an incarcerated Bernard sent to help her. After thugs brutally murder Dana’s friend Ja’El and most of Ja’El’s family, she decides to get out of East St. Louis by attending Gretna State University. She hasn’t left her old life behind, however, as she transports drugs across state lines for Tyree. Unfortunately, someone’s deception results in Dana’s arrest and imprisonment. Six years inside gives her time to compile a mental list of revenge targets, from her mother and Mr. James to Ja’El’s killers. This thoroughly engaging novel boasts a protagonist whose vengeance is justified; the reprehensible Mr. James, for example, is a pedophilic heroin dealer. Smith’s voice is both sturdy and elegant, delivering blunt, edgy prose that’s never lurid; she makes it clear what happens to Ja’El, for example, without providing graphic details. Dana’s college roommate Alex, a character from Smith’s previous series installment (in which Dana likewise appeared), provides occasional perspective. These moments offer a fascinating alternate view of the protagonist, but they can be jarring when they stray too far from the main story, particularly during Alex’s romance with another character. The somber plot isn’t without a wry sense of humor, though, as when a sardonic Dana notes that she’s “a magnet for men in the drug dealing profession.”

An uncompromising but profound urban tale from an incisive author.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-692-61078-7

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Breaking the Line Books

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2016

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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FIREFLY LANE

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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