Short and sweet; a mosaic of people, places and culture well worth knowing.

The Grand Junction

Costanzo (Restoration, 2014, etc.) presents his readers with a lush, literary portrait of family and culture across America after the second world war.

Tommy Caruso hasn’t seen his mascalzone (scoundrel) of a father for years, but he has his own life to live. His mother may have sent him to America from Naples to track down the deadbeat, but Tommy is more concerned with keeping track of his girlfriends. What’s more, the place mentioned in his last disappointing Christmas card—Livingstone, Colorado—doesn’t even seem to exist. The introduction is stunted by Tommy’s lack of investment in the search, but once he starts across the country, spurred on by his mother’s unquenchable temper, the story picks up speed. Tommy meets an excellent cast of secondary characters, uncovers layer upon layer of his father’s double life, and he soon realizes that the real story goes much deeper into the realms of crime, deception and American history than he could have imagined. But while Tommy’s discovery of his father’s life and the various branches of the Caruso family are fascinating, the novel’s greatest strength is in its breadth rather than its depth. From Laurie, a young woman who wants nothing more than to escape the dullness of her family, to Dolores, a Navajo girl hoping to use her college education to help her people, Tommy rarely witnesses a piece of American culture without also finding its opposite. And while he stumbles through his own life, he remains open to the stories around him. Even when he stays in one place for a while, he never stands still, becoming a barber and a chef in turn, meeting men out of history and forging memories of home in to a brilliant future. Tommy abruptly disappears from these jobs to continue his search, lending the novel a disjointed atmosphere at times, but overall, the story flows naturally, knitting together stories of both the beauty of the American dream and the failings of American reality.

Short and sweet; a mosaic of people, places and culture well worth knowing.

Pub Date: June 17, 2014

ISBN: 978-1483411989

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Lulu

Review Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2014

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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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