An important, gripping story about facing change with curiosity, fear, love and, ultimately, acceptance.

Reinvented Lives

In Weissman’s poignant first novel, three adult sisters and their ailing mother struggle to reconcile their often divergent points of view.

The oldest Hoffman sister, Barbara, tries to re-establish her identity now that her children are grown and out of the house, while the middle sister, Rhonda, a single mother, raises two teenage boys—one of whom is headed down a potentially dangerous path. The youngest sibling, Ellen, lives her life as a single research scientist at the University of Iowa. In the book’s prologue, their 80-year-old mother, Rae, attempts to complete the basic tasks of getting out of the house and driving. Readers later learn that Rae suffers from “constricted capillary disease,” which causes her to experience dementia. When she gets into a car accident, she and her daughters are finally forced to confront her declining health and failing memory. Weissman subtly portrays how Rae’s deterioration affects all the sisters—in their individual lives and in their relationship to one another. When Rhonda takes Rae to live with her in Arizona, it raises the emotional stakes; Barbara and Ellen are concerned that Rhonda will take advantage of their mother financially, and Rhonda, in turn, is annoyed by her sisters’ mistrust as she becomes their mother’s primary caretaker. As Rae’s health declines, the three sisters keep circling one another in their efforts to communicate. At one point, Rae thinks, “The girls are angry with each other. I wonder why this time. I hoped they would get closer when they grew up, but it didn’t happen.” Toward the end of the novel, Rhonda wonders “whether our bond is strong enough to endure the loss of Mom, the glue.” Throughout, the sisters evolve as they find love, relocate and take care of their own families. Weissman’s direct, unsentimental prose provides each woman with a compelling, authentic perspective. She also deftly captures the mixture of denial and grief that parents and children feel when their roles are reversed.

An important, gripping story about facing change with curiosity, fear, love and, ultimately, acceptance. 

Pub Date: April 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-1482543148

Page Count: 376

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 13, 2013

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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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