A rich compilation, opening up territory for further exploration.

BEST AFRICAN AMERICAN FICTION 2010

Running the gamut from accessible crime fiction to experimental efforts by critics’ darlings, this ambitious anthology offers a snapshot of modern black culture without being tied to a single theme.

Guest editor Giovanni mixes predictable big names with relative unknowns in the second installment of a new annual series. Edwidge Danticat’s “Ghosts,” set in a Haitian slum, features an aspiring young journalist who learns the hard way just how relative notions of good and evil are in his world. Less exotic but just as sharply observed is Colson Whitehead’s “The Gangsters,” which depicts middle-class youths coming of age in the Hamptons during the summer of 1985. An excerpt from Jewell Parker Rhodes’ novel Yellow Moon takes on voodoo, murder and vampires in modern New Orleans, while Glenville Lovell’s “Out of Body” is told from the point of view of an urban crime lord. Slavery and its bitter legacy are the subjects of several pieces, most arrestingly the opening story, “The Ariran’s Last Life,” in which a young African captive awakens to her mystical power. Kim Sykes provides a welcome shot of levity with “Arrivaderci, Aldo,” narrated by a bored female security guard working at a TV/movie studio. The surprising final selection, “Mary Jane,” shows a young black girl, one of the first to integrate a Southern high school, persevering over shocking prejudice. Serving as a reminder of how far American society has come—in some regards—the piece surprises partly because it’s excerpted from a 1959 young adult novel and partly because the late Dorothy Sterling, who wrote extensively about African-American subjects, happened to be white.

A rich compilation, opening up territory for further exploration.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-553-80690-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2009

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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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