These stories about remarkable women deliver an elegant blend of history and art.

THREE TALES FROM THE ARCHIVES OF LOVE

A collection of novellas offers three tales drawn from the rich soil of Jewish history.

This book finds its origin in a handful of artifacts: a pair of letters from medieval Europe, a stone inscription from imperial Rome, and an assortment of papyri from ancient Egypt. These treasures bear traces of the lives of a trio of extraordinary women: a convert to Judaism forced to carry on after her husband’s death; a Jerusalemite captured and sent to Rome after the fall of the Great Temple; and an Egyptian slave who builds a family and a home with the Jewish priest who takes her as his bride. In this collection, Stock (In Place of Me, 2015, etc.) takes the stories—whose contours are merely hinted at in the artifacts themselves—and fleshes them out, extrapolating lives and worlds from ancient etchings on rock, paper, and parchment. For too long, the history of Jews (and gentiles, for that matter) has focused on men, and one of Stock’s goals in building out her tales is to give voices to the women whose lives made up so much of the rich tapestry of Judaism. As Senior Rabbi Stacy Friedman writes in her liner notes, these voices have been “long suppressed by the larger currents of history.” Stock’s excavation, then, is an extremely worthy project. But it’s clear her fascination with these tales is not only political; it is also imaginative, and she breathes life and energy into the narratives these artifacts imply (“The destruction of the Great Temple in Jerusalem flickered through her. Often when she closed her eyes some part of the horror would rise up, tilting crazily then turning in her mind, until she seemed to be seeing it all under water”). A skilled prose stylist, the author pulls off a delicate balancing act between the modern and the ancient; her rendering of these lives feels both contemporary and of their own time. The enterprise’s only weakness is its structure. Stock decides to set her stories in reverse chronological order, and the effect is a bit confusing: presumably, the culmination of these tales comes in the experiences of Jewish women today, so it’s a bit odd that the end of her collection leaves readers on an island in the Nile two and a half millennia ago.

These stories about remarkable women deliver an elegant blend of history and art.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-60052-144-7

Page Count: 314

Publisher: Norfolk Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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