Standing On A Whale

An engaging mystery with mystical overtones that also offers a wide-ranging discourse on New Age philosophy and entrenched belief systems.
Dr. Lance Stavros is a 47-year-old, disaffected doctor ready to commit suicide when he gets a mysterious invitation to become the personal physician of an enigmatic spiritual teacher—a man known as “Hadden,” who holds court inside a mysterious compound, Hawk’s Landing, on the outskirts of Patra, Greece. Almost immediately falling under the mystic’s thrall, Lance forgoes his self-destructive tendencies and becomes deeply entwined in the drama at his newfound guru’s headquarters. Like the Romans and Pharisees of old, the local Greek authorities don’t like the message that Hadden is peddling, so they set out to neutralize him, one way or another. All this intrigue unfolds as Lance undergoes his own spiritual transformation: He listens to Hadden’s nightly lectures in “the Great Room,” slowly learns to face the demons of his past and sets his feet on the road to enlightenment. There’s a bloody cost, however, as the net tightens around Hadden and his followers. Tiernan does a fine job of balancing New Age philosophy with an engrossing whodunit, so that the former never overwhelms the latter. Readers may wish to ponder the implications of Hadden’s teachings, but they’ll also want to stick with Lance as he draws closer to uncovering the secret behind his invitation to Hawk’s Landing. The author’s descriptive prose deftly illuminates Lance’s interior and exterior worlds while continually propelling the story forward: “I had once read about a magician whose body was missing his heart. He kept it hidden in a bag under his bed. I got the impression that Twyla was missing something too, something like a heart.” Seemingly tangential forays into the sad doctor’s childhood and anemic love life quietly become building blocks for a climactic ending that offers revelations and regrets.

A provocative philosophical exploration that doubles as a crafty thriller.

Pub Date: June 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499296600

Page Count: 414

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2014

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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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