Contains elements of a compelling story but seen through a dull lens.

The Quarterback

Ginsberg’s novel depicts the rise and fall of small-town quarterback phenom Joe Sachuck.

Sachuck’s athletic life starts on the kind of quasi-mythical story arc football fans love. He’s said to have a certain spark early on, though Ginsberg resists the temptation to make him an instant hit wherever he goes, from high school to the pros. Instead, there’s respect for the work and personal sacrifices he undertakes as a driven athlete whose only goal is making it to the pinnacle of his profession. Family problems pop up, too, including a convincingly complicated story about his father who alienated the whole family while providing the toughness and dedication necessary for his son to succeed. There are even some solid parallels between Sachuck and Gary Campbell, a loner who sets in motion the trouble that eventually overtakes Sachuck. All the plot points and characters are there, but readers don’t get to see them firsthand. Instead, Ginsberg presents them through the device of a first-person narrator gathering the facts from newspapers, through wooden dialogue, from the Sachuck family and even his own cousin telling the story, giving it the stiff quality of a secondhand story told by someone who may or may not have all of the information. The format also paints the narrator, Fred, as a kind of silent observer who doesn’t seem to serve any real function in the story he’s telling. Characters will sometimes address him by name in dialogue, further removing the audience from actual events. Later on, the story of Campbell’s fall from grace on Wall Street begins and ends in a chapter fewer than two pages long. When Sachuck is drafted by a pro team and goes through grueling training to make the team, readers don’t see Joe slave over his playbook or take a hit on the field; instead, that information is passed on through a conversation with his brother, Tommy. The narrator often quotes a character without giving any kind of setting, making the information feel even more detached.

Contains elements of a compelling story but seen through a dull lens.   

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1484065624

Page Count: 264

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2013

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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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