A novel about a life spent surrounded by books, heavily influenced by the grimy realism of a poet’s life and work.

Shadowboxing With Bukowski

A man works to keep his California bookstore afloat while meditating on his relationship with Charles Bukowski. 

Kastin (The Conjurer and Other Azorean Tales, 2012, etc.) returns with a novel about a West Coast bookseller. When bibliophile Nick Kastinovich gets married, his father, disappointed in his son’s life so far, lets him run the Little Big Bookstore, hoping that the small business will teach Nick a sense of responsibility. Nick settles into his new home and profession in San Pedro, home to poet Bukowski, who happens to frequent the restaurant across from the bookstore. The two build a polite familiarity, but San Pedro proves inhospitable to the book business. Try as he might, Nick can’t seem to jump-start the Little Big Bookstore, and his life begins to deteriorate as a result. He fights off creditors as he continues to buy books, and his marriage turns cold as he fantasizes about a beautiful customer named Katherine. Woven together, these threads form the novel’s central plot. Unsurprisingly, however, Bukowski is just as important as Nick. Less an active force than a constant influence, the poet, his work, and his occasional benevolence toward the bookstore prompt the protagonist’s reflections on life and literature. Bukowski is also a primary literary influence for Kastin. Presumably, Nick Kastinovich is Kastin’s version of Hank Chinaski (Bukowski’s literary alter ego), and sentences like “the bookstore, San Pedro, all was just as corrupt, all of it rotting from the inside” evoke the poet’s gritty nihilism. Sometimes, this makes Kastin’s prose feel derivative, but more often it feels like a successful homage. Indeed, much of the book honors Nick’s/Kastin’s literary heroes: Dostoyevsky, Cervantes, and most of all John Fante (particularly Ask the Dust). Kastin believes wholeheartedly in Nick’s mission “to uncover great poets and essayists, playwrights and historians, and to share these discoveries with others, to keep these writers from fading into oblivion.” This sincere devotion should speak to any reader but especially to booksellers, who will likely recognize themselves in the protagonist’s challenges and love of literature.

A novel about a life spent surrounded by books, heavily influenced by the grimy realism of a poet’s life and work.

Pub Date: May 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-942515-37-1

Page Count: 251

Publisher: Fomite

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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