THE FROG KING

Debut about an assistant book editor by a former assistant book editor that isn’t, let’s hope, what current practitioners of the trade mistake for good reading.

Harry’s the low man on the totem pole at Prestige Books (read: Random House, Davies’s former employer). The main focus of Harry’s life is, first, the calendar he’s supposed to be editing, and, second, his girlfriend Evie. Harry’s okay, except for that brief Tony Robbins phase he went through in college and except for the fact that all he can afford for Evie’s birthday is the word “callypigian.” Here, we get to visit his many crazy apartments; we get to listen when he tells us, like a good whistleblower, how starving editors order their own books and resell them to the Strand Bookstore; we hear how editors routinely belittle writers in their “slush” piles; we listen as Harry fantasizes about having Philip Roth blurb one of his books (only after Harry’s book has been promoted—which will never happen); and we watch as he imagines himself, “Like everybody in publishing—or every young person, at least,” as a writer himself, though thankfully he concludes that “Maybe [he’s] not supposed to be a writer.” The main storyline concerns Evie, who loves Harry but dumps him when he slyly sleeps himself laterally through the industry, demeaning Evie’s love even though she’s the Bonnie to his Clyde. Anyway, love is a tiresome idea to Harry—at least until Evie’s gone and then, of course, he has to stalk her until he gets the picture. The rest consists of endless insider jokes and annoying twentysomethings spending a lot of their time talking about nothing and the rest of it lamenting that they haven’t done anything.

Dim lights, little city.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2002

ISBN: 1-57322-938-5

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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