ALONE

An earnest and occasionally hair-raising record of emotional hopes and defeats in the life of an American middle-class male, from cradle to, maybe, his final reward in a happy marriage. Like Small's other characters (in Almost Famous, 1982, and The River in Winter, 1986), Earl Dimes is born in Maine and raised in central Pennsylvania by a drunken father and a lunatic mother named Nola Nichols, who sleeps away most of her son's childhood in narcoleptic collapse. She comes to at a few crucial moments in Earl's life: when his athletic, handsome, much-favored older half-brother Richie dies in a suspicious airplane crash (the plane was carrying drugs) just as Earl is leaving for Bentham College, where he has a scholarship; when Earl's father Jack dies swiftly from cancer; and later when Earl's own son, a frail, sweet 18-year-old boy named Keefer, sets himself on fire in a suicide attempt and dies gruesomely of his burns. In between, as Nola lies on a couch in a darkened room, Earl marries into a raucous, endearing Italian-American family, taking as bride a girl he's met at college; lives despairingly as an aspiring novelist-cum-high-school teacher and then busily and affluently as a management consultant; cheats on his wife; is deserted by her; and finds that he has no access to his then-12- year-old son, whom he adores and quickly loses track of as his wife moves to California. When, years later, Nola dies, she leaves Earl nothing, telling a mutual acquaintance: ``She said you never needed anything.'' Certainly this is the impression Earl works hard to give in this (you should pardon the expression) ``men's novel''—that is, until he meets and marries Marilyn and, ceding control, lives contentedly ever after. Long-winded but affecting.

Pub Date: June 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-393-02991-3

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1991

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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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