History, action, the supernatural and intelligent discourse; this novel holds something for everyone.

MESMER'S DISCIPLE

Set in 1840s St. Louis and New York, this historical supernatural thriller pits Alvord Rawn, a vigilante-style New York cop with anger management issues, against Count Abendroth, a demonic mesmerist who has painter Charles Deas in his thrall.

Deas, a historical figure famous for frontier paintings, mysteriously went insane after becoming involved in mesmerism while in St. Louis. He returned to New York and in 1848 was committed to the Bloomingdale asylum. Swanson skillfully weaves the artist’s tale into his debut novel. Police Capt. Alvord Rawn is dismissed from the New York City Police Department for his vengeful, ruthless massacre of an Irish gang. He takes a job as a private detective working for Deas’ mother, who fears her son is losing his mind. Mrs. Deas pays Rawn well to retrieve Deas from St. Louis—by force if necessary. Swanson gives the work a 19th century feel by salting it with historical detail and imbuing characters with the manners and attitudes of the era. He also makes use of 19th century prose style to mimic period writers: “Stout was the truncheon in his belt, hickory in origin and delightfully wieldy.” This approach works, but when Swanson uses modern idioms, it jars; e.g., “shit like this”; “Damn straight I did”; “smoked his competition.” Along the way, Rawn teams up with Finnbar Fagan, a would-be Irish writer, and Marcel Durand, a true frontiersman. Both are reliable allies and thinking men, allowing Swanson to explore various ideas concerning the nature of honor, justice, race relations and art in 19th century America. As the story progresses, Deas partners with Rawn and company to bring down Abendroth as it becomes increasingly obvious the count is evil, tapping into a demonic well for his powers. Thoughtful and action-packed, with a final showdown that is both exciting and gratifying—a fine first novel.

History, action, the supernatural and intelligent discourse; this novel holds something for everyone.

Pub Date: Dec. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-0988537064

Page Count: 386

Publisher: Riverrun Bookstore Inc

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 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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