Eight more superb stories from a talented pen.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

The Topless Widow of Herkimer Street

STORIES

Uncontrollable forces (including the absurd, the magical, and the tragic) upset carefully ordered lives in this short story collection that won the 2016 Howling Bird Press fiction prize.

Appel (Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets, 2015, etc.), a physician, attorney, and bioethicist with multiple degrees, collects literary prizes the way some other authors collect rejection slips, and for good reason. This latest collection again offers well-constructed stories that sharply but compassionately observe people trying to make sense of life’s disruptions. In the title story, for example, Quincy Marder, a “steady and dependable” copyright lawyer, gets a call from his elderly mother’s neighbor about her backyard topless sunbathing: “ ‘Your Ma’s still out there,’ Otten complained. ‘And let me tell you, it’s no pretty sight.’ ” Quincy tries reasoning with his mother, pleading with her, and buying new backyard fences for the neighbors; his mom, Ilene, responds by upping the ante—inviting her friends to play topless mahjong in the front yard. Finally, she’s arrested. At the chilly police station, Ilene accepts Quincy’s coat, and he sees her differently: wrapped up, “she looked decades older, sexless, nearly lifeless—her body the sort of breathing shell that you might pass on a public street without even taking notice.” That’s what people want of old women, readers understand: to disappear and spare others from having to feel disgust and fear about their aging bodies. Ilene’s nonchalance now seems like no stunt but rather a radically self-affirming gesture. Other stories come to similarly thoughtful, often wrenching conclusions. In “Toward Uncharted Waters,” for example, a childless couple is about to start an adventurous retirement when the wife becomes a quadriplegic. Walter cares well for Marcy aboard the boat they’d planned to sail to Tierra del Fuego, but then he meets an attractive woman and wants her: “Loving Pam would mean sleeping with a body, while loving Marcy meant caring for a head.” But, as always with Appel, it’s not that simple—and Walter’s final choice is based on love of a more complicated kind.

Eight more superb stories from a talented pen.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9961952-1-8

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Black Lawrence Press

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 10

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner

  • National Book Award Finalist

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more