A finely wrought compilation, despite its occasional flaws.

Tales of the Foreign Service

LIFE ON THE EDGE

U.S. Foreign Service veteran Tucker (Innocents Return Abroad, 2012) offers a collection of nine short, autobiographical stories.

These tales about life abroad offer colorful descriptions of faraway lands as seen through the lens of an American diplomat. But the author, ever the careful observer, proves to be most interested in the fascinating characters he met in these locales. In taut prose, he describes his colleagues, their inner worlds, their torments, and their domestic strife to reveal the layered complexity of their lives. In each far-flung post, he encountered people who intrigued him, including women whose self-contradictions and persuasive magnetism exercised a magical yet dangerous allure. In El Salvador, for example, he encountered the decisive and talkative Rosa Marina Baxter, the wife of a hapless expatriate American and a sharp poker player: “Her large, pale blue eyes were a little tired; her face was slightly lined but finely featured; her mouth smiled easily and often made a pout-like expression that suggested a sense of tolerant irony.” Whether he was in Central America, Australia, the Caucasus, or stateside in Washington, D.C., Tucker often found himself trying to sort out the relationships and motivations of women. However, the author reveals little in this book about his own relationships with them, although he does write of his attempt to attract a blonde at North Camp, a Middle Eastern post that was otherwise dominated by men. But instead of wooing her, he engaged her and another male colleague in an all-night card game. Sadly, some textual errors mar these tales: triple-quote marks litter the text and copy editing issues (“alright” for “all right”; “lay” for “lie”) also detract.

A finely wrought compilation, despite its occasional flaws.

Pub Date: May 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5331-8806-9

Page Count: 294

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2016

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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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