A riveting dramatization of musical history.

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Trio

A NOVEL BIOGRAPHY OF THE SCHUMANNS AND BRAHMS

A novel that explores the complex relationships among classical composers Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann and the latter’s pianist/composer wife, Clara.

When Schumann, then a young law student, first meets Clara Josephine Wieck, she’s a 9-year-old child. She’s already gaining a reputation as a pianist, though, and when he sees her play, he comes to the realization that he must devote his own life to music. He convinces Clara’s father, Friedrich, to take him on as a piano student, and he moves in with the family. Gradually, the bond between teenage Clara and Robert becomes romantic, but Friedrich furiously opposes their union and forbids them to see each other. He has reason to believe Robert is dishonorable, and he also thinks that the musician is incapable of adequately supporting his daughter financially. However, after time apart, Clara and Robert commit to each other and plan to marry against her father’s wishes. Friedrich does everything in his power to stop them, including taking them to court. After composer Felix Mendelssohn testifies on Robert’s behalf, Clara and Robert wed, but their relationship remains fraught with challenges. Robert wins fame for his original compositions but is unable to make much of an income, and he’s emasculated by Clara’s superior earning power. Clara, too, becomes frustrated that she’s sacrificed her career for his and frets about his deteriorating mental health. When Robert is committed to an asylum after a failed suicide attempt, his friend Brahms serves as a messenger between him and Clara—and falls deeply in love with her. Author Desai (Dancing about Architecture, 2013, etc.) has produced a magisterial work, which is clearly the result of astonishingly thorough research. Although the story revolves tightly around the three main figures, there are also fascinating cameos by such musical luminaries as Richard Wagner, Franz Liszt, and Fréderic Chopin, and he memorably depicts the ego-driven rivalries between them. Each has a unique personality, and the author does a lovely job of dramatizing their quirks. Still, the character of Clara steals the show, and she emerges from the shadow of her husband’s much grander reputation as a musical genius in her own right.

A riveting dramatization of musical history.

Pub Date: June 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5049-1590-8

Page Count: 824

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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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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