An eccentric tale about a misleading relationship that burns bright and fast.

MANIC KINGDOM

Stair (Food and Mood, 2016) offers a novel, based on a true story, about a medical student who flees to Los Angeles to escape the pressures of her everyday life.

Becka is an ambitious and promising young medical student. Halfway through her second year, she and her male roomie, Chase, both begin to crack under the pressures of school. Chase accuses Becka of being a prostitute and believes that she’s bugged the apartment, while Becka struggles with bulimia and a recent breakup. On the verge of a breakdown, she impulsively quits medical school and flies to Los Angeles. On her first day there, she meets an alluring man on the street named King. He says that he’s a lawyer in the process of moving, and that’s why he sleeps in an empty house with no furniture. He also claims to be a minimalist who loves living off the land, so he bathes in the ocean, forages through dumpsters for food and clothes, and rejects medicine as a dangerous crutch. Becka is deeply attracted to King’s free-spirited lifestyle despite having recurring doubts about his background. She finds that he gives her new vitality, and she gets back in shape and conquers her bulimia while with him. But when she finally tracks down King’s history, she finds that he’s far from what he seems. Stair writes in a conversational, evenly paced, and easy-to-follow manner. However, this is an incredibly bizarre tale that she says is based on her own story, with several fictionalized elements. Although Becka’s behavior seems meant to highlight a mental breakdown, Stair writes surprisingly little about the character’s mental health or what drives her to stay with King, and the reader may find it difficult to understand Becka as a result. Still, the author builds the momentum and suspense leading to the explosive and unpredictable ending, when Becka finally discovers King’s true identity, and the reader will likely be as shocked as Becka is.

An eccentric tale about a misleading relationship that burns bright and fast.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-984032-95-9

Page Count: 294

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 9, 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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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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