PLAYING THE GAME

A preachy tale about an aging basketball coach who unexpectedly reaches the big time—in a sixth novel from the author of Brooklyn Boy, 1989, etc. Former history professor and narrator Sydney Berger loves basketball with a passion great enough to have forsaken the classroom for a series of dead-end coaching positions. When events thrust him into the top job at Conway College, a buttoned-down New Hampshire institution (that bears more than a passing resemblance to Dartmouth, where Lelchuk teaches), the ex-prof is ready. First off, Sydney (whose penchant for introspective sermonettes on education, racial bias, inner-city pathologies, etc., soon becomes tiresome) assembles an ethnically diverse crew of players. Their culturally disadvantaged ranks encompass a stylish black crack- addict, a guitar-strumming Puerto Rican, an Israeli math whiz, a lippy Irish kid destined to win a Rhodes scholarship, a gifted Native American ball handler, and a hulking forward from a working- class Polish family. After some early reverses, the lads master Sydney's ``high-flew'' system and go on a winning streak that gains them the Ivy League championship. The real secret of the squad's success, however, lies in the coach's inspirational readings at halftime, when he lets Emerson, Parkman, Whitman, Santayana, and other literary lights do his talking. Conway continues its winning ways in the post-season NCAA tournament, earning a coveted berth in the Final Four, but not before Sydney is briefly suspended for alleged violations of recruitment and financial-aid rules. In the anticlimactic windup, Sydney (Ö la Thoreau) goes to prison after refusing a judge's request to produce records that could prove embarrassing or even incriminating for his players. Then, free at last, he heads West to embrace a morally ambiguous future. Fast-breaking sports fiction ultimately defeated by an implausible plot and a schoolmasterish hero who periodically sounds as alienated as any Walker Percy hero.

Pub Date: April 17, 1995

ISBN: 1-880909-32-4

Page Count: 335

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1995

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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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