A novel full of people—flawed, scarred, scared—discovering how to punish themselves less and connect with others more.

FAITHFUL

Hoffman takes a break from writing about distant places and the distant past (Marriage of Opposites, 2015, etc.) to explore the psyche of a young Long Island woman afflicted by survivor guilt.

In her own mind, Shelby Richmond stole her best friend’s future. Two years have passed since the car accident that left Helene tethered to a feeding tube in her childhood bedroom just before she should have graduated from high school, a mute but lovely shadow of her former badass self, a magnet for pilgrims hoping to be cured by touching her hand. This cringeworthy spectacle sometimes causes Shelby to ponder whether it's better or worse that her friend lived. Mainly, though, Shelby focuses on enacting her own penance for being physically and cognitively intact (the jury’s out on emotionally): by shaving her head, sleeping like Dracula in her parents’ basement, skipping college, and sometimes cutting herself in places she thinks won’t be detected. Miserable as things are for Shelby, Hoffman provides readers as well as her deeply wounded heroine some quirky human anchors to make her journey back to higher functionality more than bearable, even entertaining: e.g., an anonymous Samaritan, apparently male, who sends her hand-drawn postcards bearing get-well messages in the form of visual and verbal riddles. And there's black-humored levity in Shelby’s snarky exchanges with Ben Mink—her marijuana source who's grown from high school geek to handsome striver and brings her Ray Bradbury books to read. “I believe in tragedy,” she tells him apropos of Helene’s faithful flock. “Not miracles.” Though bald and self-medicating, she grasps that moving in with Ben while he attends pharmacy grad school (!!!) at NYU might be a better direction. While shacking up with Ben, she finds a job cleaning cages at a gritty pet store. The silver lining is her co-worker Maravelle, a single mom of three young kids, whose lack of self-pity over her bad luck with men ("See a charmer and you're bound to see a snake nearby") attracts Shelby. Perhaps there’s a way these two bruised women can help each other? Ultimately, though, it’s Sue Richmond, Shelby’s mom, who proves to be the real saint of the narrative—her unobtrusive shaping of Shelby’s better instincts is one of the most touching aspects of the book. With Hoffman, it’s a safe bet deus ex machina or mild enchantment is going to enter the plot. By the time it does, however, Shelby’s well on her way to recalibrating. She couldn’t save her friend, but Hoffman endows her with the inner weather to save herself.

A novel full of people—flawed, scarred, scared—discovering how to punish themselves less and connect with others more.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-9920-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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