Too much for any but the most battle-hardened readers.

THE SIEGE OF KHE SANH 1967-68

A salacious novel camouflaged as a historically accurate dramatization of the famous Vietnam War battle.

The cover’s sepia photograph and front pages filled with maps and charts of troop strength evoke something like a straightforward military history, but the fictional overlay seems contrived to advance a jingoistic, erotic interpretation of the war. Nuance rarely intrudes; superlatives abound; repetition distracts. Ehrlich (Isolde, 1991) creates caricatures, places them in unrealistic circumstances and has them say unbelievable things. At the center of the action is Col. Richard Vortex, a Rambo-like soldier—“93 kilograms of solid, rock hard and rippling, Communist pulverizing muscle.” He and others feast, fight and philander their way through the action without much discernible character development. Plot follows the real-life battle timeline, while historical details, often parlayed in pages of speechifying, paint an unsavory portrait of war. True to life, war is hell: Amid the profanity grisly combat scenes, wartime rapes only add to the misery. However, Ehrlich sometimes gratuitously commingles sex and violence. When Vortex and his South Vietnamese girlfriend (wearing an evening gown following dinner and dancing) interrogate a Viet Cong prisoner in an underground torture chamber, they combine copulation with dismemberment: “ ‘I shall tongue kiss this boy while you mutilate his toes,’ laughed Susie Ky.” Ehrlich extends depravity to nonfictional characters, too, besmirching such historical figures as Capt. Frank C. Willoughby, who helps his South Vietnamese girlfriend castrate her father, a Viet Cong collaborator. Messianic prayers after slaughters and characters lapsing into German to reminisce about Hitler’s Wehrmacht increase dissonance. Ehrlich has clearly studied the war extensively, but unfortunately, his fiction overwhelms any scholarship.

Too much for any but the most battle-hardened readers.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-0646323022

Page Count: 804

Publisher: Levanter Publishing & Associates

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2013

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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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