Despite the stream-of-consciousness style that leaves the reader feeling somewhat distant from the story, DeMaio pulls off a...

WHOLE LATTE LIFE

Debut author DeMaio sketches the mid-life crisis of a 40-year-old woman and shows that turmoil can lurk behind even the most serene of façades.

Sara Beth Riley is a stereotypical suburban mom with a financially successful and fairly decent husband, three good kids, a nice house, great friends and enviable health. But behind that mask, Sara’s soul is actually crumbling. Unlike many content to go through the motions, Sara says “no more,” and walks out on her life, her family, her kids and her husband, both literally (for a short while) and emotionally (for an extended time). DeMaio’s use of supporting characters to show the impact of Sara’s choice on others is an enlightening stroke that adds depth to her character’s journey. It also makes Sara appear whiny and unlikable at times, illustrating how unsympathetically the world can perceive those struggling with inner burdens. The author uses Sara’s self-obsessed misery as a tool to show the more interesting and powerful paths of the people close to her, including her husband, her best friend and a troubled officer in the NYPD’s mounted division. The transformations of the secondary characters make up the core of the book, and the title character sometimes seems little more than a static pawn for the stronger personalities around her. At times the author’s style of jumping between past and present, as well as switching viewpoints, makes for jarring transitions. But the moments of confusion are usually made worthwhile by the scene’s thoughtful foray into the not-so-simple emotions of those struggling to rebuild in the middle decades of their lives, especially in the shadows of loss and death.

Despite the stream-of-consciousness style that leaves the reader feeling somewhat distant from the story, DeMaio pulls off a wandering, thoughtful story that surprises with its insight and emotional impact.

Pub Date: March 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-1466427501

Page Count: 336

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2012

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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