Wry rather than out-loud funny, laced with melancholy and angst, this book is an enviable first effort.

THE ADULTS

Like many teenagers, Emily Vidal believes her life sucks. That Emily is conscious of her own foibles gives this coming-of-age debut novel a measure of depth. And then there are Emily's sardonic observations of the wealthy denizens of suburban Connecticut.

The book opens with 14-year-old Emily at her father's 50th birthday party. The usual teenage snarkiness is checked when she discovers her father in a passionate embrace with Mrs. Resnick, the next-door neighbor. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Resnick commits suicide, a hanging Emily observes but cannot prevent. The situation grows more confusing when Mrs. Resnick turns up pregnant. Emily's parents divorce, her father follows his work to Prague and Emily is left with her detached mother and an overweening conception of her own maturity. Before she understands the sharp edges of passion, Emily finds herself, seduced and seducer, in a love affair with Mr. Basketball, her teacher, a dalliance that will continue intermittently over a decade. Emily conquers college, about which little is said, and then moves to Prague for graduate work in interior design. There she lives with her father, meets again with her lover and connects with her half sister. Next it's Brooklyn, where Emily finds a new love and begins her career, only to be confronted again by a guilt-ridden Mr. Basketball, now a widowed lawyer. The story weaves toward its conclusion when Emily's father returns to Connecticut ill with lung cancer. Espach's writing is literary and introspective, sometimes indulging in irony circling upon irony, but it’s securely grounded in a sense of place. Even when the story moves to Prague, settings resonate with authenticity. With rare exceptions, the cast of characters, from fellow students to expats in Prague to the post-yuppies of Connecticut, are well-studied.

Wry rather than out-loud funny, laced with melancholy and angst, this book is an enviable first effort.

Pub Date: April 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4391-9185-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2010

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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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