Shoots out lots of sparks, but nothing ignites. (First printing of 25,000; author tour)

FACE OF AN ANGEL

Soveida, the Mexican-American waitress narrating this unruly first novel, has such an enchanting voice and so willingly reveals all that it takes a while to catch on that she is never going to get to the point.

It's a shame, too, because Chavez (The Last of the Menu Girls, not reviewed) has created a wonderfully vibrant character whose little stories of life in the small New Mexico town of Agua Oscura are full of imaginative detail. As a religious young woman Soveida is fascinated by Saint Maria Goretti, who was raped and then killed. Later she learns about sex from an erotic-movie preview mistakenly shown to her elementary school class when they go to see The Song of Bernadette. At 15, Soveida begins working as a bus girl at a restaurant, where she eventually advances to waiting tables and starts writing ``The Book of Service,'' a collection of advice for young women thinly disguised as a waitressing guide. (The chapter on hands instructs servers not to wear rings because they will get dirty: ``Especially wedding, engagement, or friendship. They will only go down the drain sooner or later, and cause some kind of chafing.'') She herself marries twice, to a philanderer who leaves her for another woman and to a man afflicted with Peyronie's disease, a blood-vessel disorder that makes sexual excitement painful and intercourse impossible. After the latter's suicide, she takes up with a community-college professor of Chicano Culture and Tradition and Folklore. There are plenty of good ideas buried here: the different kinds of service in women's lives, academic distance from real life, the influence of upbringing. Unfortunately, none of these is presented as a central theme. Adding to the kitchen-sink feeling is the inclusion of documents ranging from Soveida's college papers (including her professor's comments and grades) to letters from former husbands and lovers.

Shoots out lots of sparks, but nothing ignites. (First printing of 25,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-374-15204-7

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1994

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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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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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