These poems take aim at such wisdom and several hit their mark.

HEROIN

AND OTHER POEMS

In the title poem here, Smith (Before and After, 1995) reaffirms the ancient equation of drugs and love, and casts an old suspicion on both. In Smith’s world, passion always does dwindle, and most of these poems are written in the low tide of love, when ecstasy has given way to disenchantment and self-accusation. Smith’s portrait of what he calls his “derelict morbid unforgivable self” is always unsparing, but he summons a saving humor and observes the fall out of romance from a wry distance: “She’s gone away for good, but I can’t get over it. / I record my voice saying her name, then mimic her / saying I love you. It gets no better.” At other moments, self-recrimination threatens to become indistinguishable from hysteria or narcissism: “I raged / through the house, explained to the open refrigerator how misused I was, / wept into my hands, puked . . . / listened to whatever song / said the world was an impossible place.” That the refrigerator should be “open” is worth a smile, but here Smith’s extravagance comes close to caricature—the jilted lover who blames the beloved, or simply “the world,” for faults he knows to be his own—and his confessions shade into clichés. More often, however, Smith is a clear-eyed and world-weary champion of the emotional life: “The young men walk down the roads singing stupid songs / & making promises they’ll never keep, & this is familiar. / Love watches itself go to pieces in someone’s backyard, / and later we admit we have no explanation for how things turned out.” To recognize that you have run out of explanations takes a certain courage, to admit as much is a gesture toward wisdom.

These poems take aim at such wisdom and several hit their mark.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-393-04997-3

Page Count: 104

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2000

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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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