In this debut novel, a successful California business owner loses everything in the economic downturn and enters the gray market of medicinal marijuana sales.

While raising a family, Phillip McCalister, 40, has run a shirt-making factory in California. With the economy collapsing and huge payments due on his overpriced real estate, he’s threatened with foreclosure and must suspend operations. His wife files for divorce and moves out with their two young sons. The story of Phillip’s demise as a legitimate businessman and his reinvention as a purveyor of medicinal marijuana is told in flashbacks. The opening chapter and alternating chapters reveal a present-day legal situation in which Phillip faces undisclosed court proceedings. By the book’s conclusion, the two narratives have been linked and his fate is made clear. Following the loss of his business and most of his assets, he’s encouraged by Raul, a former employee, to exploit California’s arcane medicinal marijuana regulations. In many cases, it isn’t considered criminal to cultivate and distribute marijuana and edible, THC-infused products to California’s hundreds of medical marijuana clubs. With some brief market research and considerable expertise from his now-partner Raul, Phillip becomes a major player in the marijuana market. The two quickly make a fortune, with Phillip becoming “Jack Gram,” servicing various niches including “the Armenians over in Canoga and the surfers over in Northridge” as well as “the Russians in downtown” and “the Israelis, too.” The entertaining specifics about the marijuana industry indicate inside knowledge, and the varieties of product number in the dozens—including “Purple Urkle,” “Afghani Kush,” “White Widow,” “Pineapple Express” and “AK-47.” Alternating the chapters of Phillip’s current criminal problems with the back story of his growing involvement in the enterprise lends a modest air of mystery. Much less successful, however, are two unnecessary detours into explicit sex scenes, one involving Phillip’s soon-to-be ex-wife that offers little insight into their obvious marital dilemmas and the second coming across as an inexplicably raunchy male fantasy involving two sex workers and a night of endless pleasure. These episodes detract from a story with potential to shed light on how, after losing everything, a man can reinvent himself.

Jack Gram is no Walter White, but his entertaining devolution into the world of drug manufacturing is a decent hit of pot-lit.

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-0615905891

Page Count: 146

Publisher: Fried Potato Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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.


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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