An eloquent but sometimes-clumsy look at the lingering legacies of the past.

A BRIDGE TO THE BRIGHT SIDE OF DESTINY

Stories about lifelong loss and trauma intersect in this debut novel.

When 73-year-old Emanuel Cortez dies alone in his armchair, his story dies with him—a tale about a fiancee who disappeared and the successful but lonely life he led in her wake. The narrative then jumps to Emily Gibbings, a 78-year-old woman who in many ways feels alive for the first time. She’s just gotten engaged to Marcos Santos, an enigmatic man who recently moved to her assisted living facility. Even though her loved ones find this decision difficult to understand, Emily tries to explain how much she values the canasta games and the gentle touches they share. He has brought joy and intimacy back into her life, two things she thought she’d lost forever when she was violently assaulted as a young woman. He also tells her about the origin of his special card decks, a beautiful tale involving young lovers separated by a misunderstanding. Emily believes that their love is much simpler. But when she shows Marcos a photograph of herself before her assault, he reacts strangely, and she begins to feel a prickle of danger. Her best friend, Margaret, was a marriage counselor for many years, and she agrees that something seems suspicious. But when the two of them pry into his past, they’re unprepared for what they uncover. All the while, an obvious connection between Emanuel and Emily arises, but other less evident collisions also occur, including a cleverly threaded symbol of a bird that fails to escape when given the chance. Piroso’s writing offers plenty of lovely psychological insights, as when Emily imagines “witnessing how the best of herself slowly became a dry river, a dusty reminiscence of a mighty flow of sentiments.” Emily and Margaret’s friendship, humor, and fears of aging are deftly illustrated in a way that’s reminiscent of Joanna Cannon’s Three Things About Elsie. But this same attention to psychology at times encumbers the book, with some passages of overexplanation. In addition, exposition often arrives in the form of stilted dialogue. At one point, Emily recalls the first day she saw Marcos at the facility: “He did not do much, he just stood there—a few others were also looking at him. As you know, Margaret by her own choice has become a sort of ad hoc concierge for this place. Usually, she is the one that greets and introduces the novices to the rest of us.”

An eloquent but sometimes-clumsy look at the lingering legacies of the past.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-70978-234-3

Page Count: 271

Publisher: Out Reach Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2019

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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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