A handsome but tormented Cuban man finds both joy and hardship in this operatic novel.

The Troubleseeker

Olympian and Santería mythologies merge in this international romance.

Lessik’s debut novel has just about everything: love, identity, politics, the politics of identity, heartbreak, mythical overtones, and innumerable gods in the machine. Antinio grows up in a Cuba that is unapologetically militant (whereas he is peaceful), irreligious (where he is polytheistic), and macho (while he is gay). He has advantages too: he’s winsome, muscular, quick to learn foreign tongues, and has a very big pinga. He first comes to enjoy sex with boys at a military encampment during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. After he’s raped by one of the more vicious boys, he attempts suicide and returns to civilian life. But to be gay is to violate taboo in the Cuba of the ’60s and when Antinio’s affections are revealed, he’s expelled from college and comes to feel himself lower than a worm.As an adolescent, Antinio’s favorite book is The Golden Ages, a primer on the gods of Olympus and the heroes they championed. “Antinio saw the similarity between the gods he was studying and the Santería orishas,” various aspects of the godhead’s divinity. Characters in the novel (Calypso, for example, the woman who protects his secrets and gets him readmitted to the university as a linguist) appear with names from Greek mythology, but there is a decided mixing of influence: Calypso, in the book, is also a priestess of Santería. A doctor who tends his fate in a psychiatric ward is named Minos. This is charming, if unsubtle, and the key at the beginning of the work—spelling out the meaning of the characters’ Greek names and what roles they play in the narrative—probably gives the game away a bit too early. But there’s another level to the metaphor: “Antinio and his partners use the terms Greek-active and -passive to describe their sexual behavior.” To be gay was (and is) often to be scorned in America as well, and when the story follows Antinio’s journey to Minnesota as a refugee, and then, later, into illness and suffering, Lessik’s prose is always sympathetic and eloquent.

A handsome but tormented Cuban man finds both joy and hardship in this operatic novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-937627-27-0

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Chelsea Station Editions

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2016

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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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.


From the Briar U series

In this opener to Kennedy’s (Hot & Bothered, 2017, etc.) Briar U romance series, two likable students keep getting their signals crossed.

Twenty-one-year-old Summer Heyward-Di Laurentis is expelled from Brown University in the middle of her junior year because she was responsible for a fire at the Kappa Beta Nu sorority house. Fortunately, her father has connections, so she’s now enrolled in Briar University, a prestigious institution about an hour outside Boston. But as she’s about to move into Briar’s Kappa Beta Nu house, she’s asked to leave by the sisters, who don’t want her besmirching their reputation. Her older brother Dean, who’s a former Briar hockey star, comes to her rescue; his buddies, who are still on the hockey team, need a fourth roommate for their townhouse. Three good-looking hockey jocks and a very rich, gorgeous fashion major under the same roof—what could go wrong? Summer becomes quickly infatuated with one of her housemates: Dean’s best friend Colin “Fitzy” Fitzgerald. There’s a definite spark between them, and they exchange smoldering looks, but the tattooed Fitzy, who’s also a video game reviewer and designer, is an introvert who prefers no “drama” in his life. Summer, however, is a charming extrovert, although she has an inferiority complex about her flagging scholastic acumen. As the story goes on, the pair seem to misinterpret each other’s every move. Meanwhile, another roommate and potential suitor, Hunter Davenport, is waiting in the wings. Kennedy’s novel is full of sex, alcohol, and college-level profanity, but it never becomes formulaic. The author adroitly employs snappy dialogue, steady pacing, and humor, as in a scene at a runway fashion show featuring Briar jocks parading in Summer-designed swimwear. The book also manages to touch on some serious subjects, including learning disabilities and abusive behavior by faculty members. Summer and Fitzy’s repeated stumbles propel the plot through engaging twists and turns; the characters trade off narrating the story, which gives each of them a chance to reveal some substance.

A steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.    

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72482-199-7

Page Count: 372

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2019

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