THE RUNAWAY SOUL

Brodkey's long, long, long-awaited first novel that could not possibly live up to expectations—and yet, largely, does. One must forgive Brodkey or oneself for not being able to take in every page of this 800-page novel with equal thirst. Tedious passages, reread later, spring to life—and some remain tiresome (for now). The story focuses on the childhood, youth, and first marriage (not in that order!) of Wiley Silenowicz, a Missouri genius, and the role of his hideously vile-tempered sister Nonie as a shadow in all people Wiley meets or marries. Earlier sketches seen in Stories in an Almost Classical Mode (1988) are mere charcoal prefigurings of what appears here—and seem pared and objective set beside the bathyspheric subjectivity of the novel. The plot?—a psychic web of small electrical events feeding and racing everywhere, and never stated formally. Nothing happens now: every action arrives through a veil, often at merciless length. Wiley, at two, has been adopted by S.L. and Lila of St. Louis, who have a blood-daughter, Nonie, 11 years older than Wiley. Nonie, who must give pain to be alive, rules the roost, and we follow her demonic life until her death by fire in her early 40s (Wiley tells this story, a hugely askew elegy, nearly 20 years after her death). Events include baby sensations as S.L. lifts up Wiley and walks about filling him with fatherly advice; Lila's fabulous car accident as she forgetfully drives her Buick into a bus, flees on three-inch heels wearing a fox neckpiece; masturbation solo and in tandem; vast sex scenes, one at 14, his first coupling (almost), which is forever interrupted by Nonie, and a later sexfest with his deliberately inorgasmic wife Ora; trips with a homosexual older cousin; and separate death-scenes for S.L. and Lila, which spread all over the novel. Forget the Proust comparison. Brodkey is himself, and many pages here have the deep-rolling profound thrust, painterly originality, and lightning-bolt flash of great art. But many readers will fade early.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 1991

ISBN: 0-374-25286-6

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1991

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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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