A familiar tale, but one that has a melodramatic sincerity.

THE BASEBALL

In Flerlage’s (Before Bethlehem, 2012) short novel, a woman cleaning up a cellar finds a keepsake that conjures painful memories of love and loss.

When Lucy gets the “coveted chore” of sweeping her grandfather Landon Myers’ cellar, she expects to find nothing more than dust and mouse droppings there. She does find a couple of dead mice, and even a snakeskin, but the real discovery is an old baseball. She can tell right away that it means something to her grandfather: “As he took it, his heart raced; sweat formed above his thin white eyebrows.” After he collects himself, he tells Lucy the story of the ball, and of his life before he married her grandmother. In 1975, Landon was a celebrated pediatric oncologist, recently divorced, and the father of a young son, Alex. As per the custody agreement, Landon saw his child on weekends, which they spent going to Cincinnati Reds games—Alex was a huge fan—and at one game, he caught a foul ball, barehanded. Lucy later asks her grandfather why he’d kept his first marriage, and Alex, a secret: “I had to compartmentalize my life into two existences in order to help me to heal,” he says. Back in 1975, Alex was ill; he was experiencing headaches and issues with his vision. An angiogram confirmed what Landon feared: a brain tumor. The irony of a doctor who saves children’s lives but can’t save his own son’s isn’t lost on Flerlage; in fact, he even titles a chapter “Tragic Irony,” and later, he has Landon’s ex-wife, Marilyn, say that the loss of Alex will hurt Landon the most “because he, of all people, can’t save our son.” Suffice it to say that the book lacks subtlety, and it has the sentimental tone and flavor of a film on the Hallmark Channel. That said, it also tells an unusually affecting story. Overall, this is an earnest, unpretentious book that, despite overly deliberate grabs for the heartstrings, still manages to pluck them, all the same.

A familiar tale, but one that has a melodramatic sincerity.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-0-9898281-2-3

Page Count: 133

Publisher: DreamScapes Publishing Ltd

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 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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