DEEPSTEP COME SHINING

This Arkansas-born Brown professor has written numerous books of verse and has also collaborated on multimedia exhibits about her native state, which shows in this unusual verse novel, an unholy marriage of Kerouac’s bop prosody and Flannery O—Connor’s southern gothic sensibility. Stylistically, it also brings to mind Anne Carson’s similarly collage-like verse novel, Autobiography of Red, though Wright draws not on classical literature, but on a wild mix of pop lyrics, down-home imagery, readings on optics, and just about anything else that plunks into consciousness. Framed as a car ride through the South, Wright visits only places of iconic significance or sonorous glee, from Poetry, Georgia, to Hamlet, N.C. (birthplace of John Coltrane). Lots of sass-talk punctuates the journey (—Shit. I burned the shit out of my shit-eating tongue—), and typography provides at least some visual variation in this self-consciously cinematic narrative. As tough-talking as much of this is, Wright indulges in moments of pathos for AIDS victims and a child blinded by Agent Orange. Careful to establish her white-trash authenticity (—Trailer living was appealing when I was seventeen—), Wright too often gives in to Forrest Gump—like pearls of wisdom and lame bits of anarchic humor. Wright’s unique voice is all rhythm, sometimes dizzying and delightful, and sometimes simply incoherent.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-55659-093-8

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Copper Canyon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1998

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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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