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 years pass by at a fast and steamy clip in Blume’s latest adult novel (Wifey, not reviewed; Smart Women, 1984) as two friends find loyalties and affections tested as they grow into young women. In sixth grade, when Victoria Weaver is asked by new girl Caitlin Somers to spend the summer with her on Martha’s Vineyard, her life changes forever. Victoria, or more commonly Vix, lives in a small house; her brother has muscular dystrophy; her mother is unhappy, and money is scarce. Caitlin, on the other hand, lives part of the year with her wealthy mother Phoebe, who’s just moved to Albuquerque, and summers with her father Lamb, equally affluent, on the Vineyard. The story of how this casual invitation turns the two girls into what they call "Summer sisters" is prefaced with a prologue in which Vix is asked by Caitlin to be her matron of honor. The years in between are related in brief segments by numerous characters, but mostly by Vix. Caitlin, determined never to be ordinary, is always testing the limits, and in adolescence falls hard for Von, an older construction worker, while Vix falls for his friend Bru. Blume knows the way kids and teens speak, but her two female leads are less credible as they reach adulthood. After high school, Caitlin travels the world and can’t understand why Vix, by now at Harvard on a scholarship and determined to have a better life than her mother has had, won’t drop out and join her. Though the wedding briefly revives Vix’s old feelings for Bru, whom Caitlin is marrying, Vix is soon in love with Gus, another old summer friend, and a more compatible match. But Caitlin, whose own demons have been hinted at, will not be so lucky. The dark and light sides of friendship breathlessly explored in a novel best saved for summer beachside reading.

Pub Date: May 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32405-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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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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