Successful as a parable; less so as a novel.

Into Light and Shadow


In Gordon’s debut novel, a near-death experience sparks an eclectic search for spiritual fulfillment.

Steve Forrest is a quintessential go-getter. From his career as a high-powered corporate lawyer to his passion for mountaineering expeditions, Steve relentlessly pursues his goals. It’s only after a near-lethal accident on the slopes of Mount Everest leaves him partially paralyzed that Steve recognizes his life as a shallow “exercise in ego.” Fired from his soulless job, served divorce papers by his embittered wife, and reeling from the loss of his mobility, Steve is forced to focus on what he calls the Light: a sense of all-consuming love that surrounded him during his accident and showed him the errors of his previous lifestyle. Guided by Father Jack, a preternaturally wise Catholic priest/psychotherapist/Zen Buddhist he meets in the hospital, Steve embarks on a quest to redeem his misspent life. Gordon tracks Steve’s experiments with an array of spiritual traditions, from Christian mysticism to Chinese qi gong. Along the way, Steve repairs his relationships with his children, joins an environmental law firm, and reconnects with his Native American roots, among other admirable accomplishments. Despite his ostensible struggles, Steve’s success seems preordained from the outset; he tidily overcomes each new obstacle in his path, steadily progressing toward enlightenment. Rather than fully realized individuals, the supporting characters, particularly all-knowing Jack, read as plot devices tailor-made to enhance Steve’s growth. Much of their dialogue is rather unrealistic: “I suspect the terror you’ve been feeling is rooted in your ego.” However, what the book lacks in character development and narrative tension, it makes up for in philosophical sophistication. Gordon is clearly knowledgeable about the religious concepts that Steve encounters, and his explanations of them are clear and engaging. Though he draws heavily from Zen Buddhism, the author’s omnivorous, nondenominational take on spirituality is refreshing, and he deftly balances and integrates each of the many traditions that come into play. Particularly for readers interested in pursuing their own spiritual development, Steve’s story may serve as a useful and enjoyable model. 

Successful as a parable; less so as a novel.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-9912772-0-9

Page Count: 334

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2015

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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