SOME MEN ARE LOOKERS

NEW STORIES IN THE ``BUDDIES'' CYCLE

A fourth volume of 11 linked stories from the prolific author of the Buddies trilogy (Everybody Loves You, 1988, etc.), about urban gay men obsessed with friendship, food, the arts, sex, and growing old. For the 20 recurring characters, the advent of AIDS has parsed life into segments: Before, Very Before, and After. Most came of age (and came out) in the early '80s and now comprise a wisecracking, extended family that keeps itself entertained through incessant gab. The ground rules? Don't take yourself too seriously, and use a lacerating quip to deflate anyone who does. The stories, meanwhile, are contrived by incidents that function simply to provide scaffolding on which to hang dish. The rambling discourse is usually vague and pointless, sometimes involving ritualized adolescent parlor games along the lines of ``If you could sleep with any porn star, who would it be?'' The literature of repartee can be hilarious (Joe Orton and Ivy Compton-Burnett come to mind), but here the effect is fatally undermined by pages of numbingly unfunny dialogue, relieved by occasional apt one-liners (``What's soliciting? Saying yes to someone over 50''), while earnest but obvious generalizations about the gay condition often smother the laughs just as they're getting naughty. The more successful tales feature endearing, quirky characters, like the sassy drag queen in ``What a Difference Miss Faye Made,'' and Konstantin, the impossibly sweet Russian construction worker in ``Jeopardy.'' But the rest of the ensemble is nearly interchangeable. Truly clever conversation can sometimes compensate for otherwise undeveloped characters, but in this case neither the glib pronouncements nor empty personalities give us much reason to care about these chatterboxes.

Pub Date: June 13, 1997

ISBN: 0-312-15660-X

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1997

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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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