A compulsively readable melodrama.

THE SILENT SISTER

After her father’s sudden death, a daughter discovers disturbing facts about a sister presumed dead more than two decades earlier.

One way or another, Lisa MacPherson, a musical prodigy, has always dominated the lives of her family. By the age of 17, she's a violin virtuoso with a bright future. Unaccountably, on a winter morning, Lisa’s kayak (though not her body) is discovered in the ice-bound Potomac near the family’s Alexandria, Virginia, home. Shortly after the tragedy, the family moves to North Carolina. Lisa’s younger siblings, Danny, 7, and Riley, 2, will be told only that Lisa suffered from depression and committed suicide. Twenty-three years later, Riley, who has become a high school guidance counselor to help depressed teens like Lisa, is settling her father Frank’s affairs after his death from a heart attack. (Her mother had succumbed to cancer years before.) While getting ready to sell his North Carolina real estate—her childhood home and a trailer park—Riley runs across several people who harbor secrets about her family’s past: Danny, a mentally troubled Iraq War vet, nurses grudges against his parents while living as a virtual hermit on the outskirts of the trailer park. Her father’s friend Tom exhibits a threatening mien. Jeannie, another family friend, appears helpful, but what is she hiding? Riley discovers that her father was paying Tom off, but why? Early on, Lisa’s voice, and her version of events, emerges. We learn that she was accused of murdering her violin teacher and was about to stand trial. Her suicide was faked by her father and Tom, both ex-U.S. Marshals skilled at making people disappear. Her father relocated her to San Diego, where, ignoring Frank’s warnings to avoid music, she found new outlets for her extraordinary talent. Although the plot is not exactly watertight, the revelations are parceled out so skillfully that disbelief remains suspended until the satisfying if not entirely plausible close.

A compulsively readable melodrama.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-01071-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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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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