This novel’s romantic problems often fall into routine patterns, but Leuthold’s insights into the transformative power of...

XZA

A NOVEL

Leuthold’s debut novel explores the lives and loves of an author and one of her devoted readers.

Alexandria Zenobia “Xan” Alexander enjoys her successful career as a writer. Under the pen name XZA, she’s published several edgy, controversial novels that explore the challenges faced by young women. She’s strong and independent, particularly when it comes to relationships. At a book signing, she impulsively flirts with a handsome book reviewer named Michael Singer. Ten years later, Xan is living with him and struggling to find the perfect ending to her latest book. At the same time, she’s trying to come to terms with her past in order to understand why her relationship with Michael has endured. As Xan’s story unfolds, Leuthold offers a parallel narrative about a college student named Jessie. When she receives an unexpected gift of one of Xan’s novels from a former student named Willa, it reignites their friendship. As they bond over the book, Jessie starts to re-evaluate her school and career goals and her on-again, off-again relationship with her unsupportive boyfriend, Dick. Jessie provides an intriguing foil for Xan; although they’re at different stages in their lives, both question why they’re staying in their respective relationships. Unfortunately, these relationships also provide some of the book’s weaker moments. Michael is the perfect lover, caring, loyal and supportive, while Dick is rude, boorish and belittling, which leads to clichéd dilemmas, such as Xan wondering why she’s unable to say “I love you” to Michael and Jessie reflecting on why she clings to her unhealthy relationship. However, the author does skillfully keep the two main plots and multiple supporting characters clear and cohesive while also weaving in passages from XZA’s books. As the chapters alternate between Xan’s and Jessie’s stories, the fictional book passages show Xan’s character and her point of view as a writer.

This novel’s romantic problems often fall into routine patterns, but Leuthold’s insights into the transformative power of literature keep the narrative from becoming predictable.  

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2013

ISBN: 978-0991131914

Page Count: 354

Publisher: Green Hill Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 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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Laymon moves us dazzlingly (and sometimes bewilderingly) from 1964 to 1985 to 2013 and incorporates themes of prejudice,...

LONG DIVISION

A novel within a novel—hilarious, moving and occasionally dizzying.

Citoyen “City” Coldson is a 14-year-old wunderkind when it comes to crafting sentences. In fact, his only rival is his classmate LaVander Peeler. Although the two don’t get along, they’ve qualified to appear on the national finals of the contest "Can You Use That Word in a Sentence," and each is determined to win. Unfortunately, on the nationally televised show, City is given the word “niggardly” and, to say the least, does not provide a “correct, appropriate or dynamic usage” of the word as the rules require. LaVander similarly blows his chance with the word “chitterlings,” so both are humiliated, City the more so since his appearance is available to all on YouTube. This leads to a confrontation with his grandmother, alas for City, “the greatest whupper in the history of Mississippi whuppings.” Meanwhile, the principal at City’s school has given him a book entitled Long Division. When City begins to read this, he discovers that the main character is named City Coldson, and he’s in love with a Shalaya Crump...but this is in 1985, and the contest finals occurred in 2013. (Laymon is nothing if not contemporary.) A girl named Baize Shephard also appears in the novel City is reading, though in 2013, she has mysteriously disappeared a few weeks before City’s humiliation. Laymon cleverly interweaves his narrative threads and connects characters in surprising and seemingly impossible ways.

Laymon moves us dazzlingly (and sometimes bewilderingly) from 1964 to 1985 to 2013 and incorporates themes of prejudice, confusion and love rooted in an emphatically post-Katrina world.

Pub Date: June 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-932841-72-5

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Bolden/Agate

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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