A creatively constructed narrative that doesn’t come together in a fully satisfying way.

AWAKE ASLEEP DREAMING DEAD

Siwicki’s follow-up to his 2009 novel Expression explores themes of time, memory, perception, and consciousness through a story of an ordinary man’s brush with death.

Sam Young leads a simple, straightforward life in his small hometown. After he graduates, he opens a photography studio, and earns an honest living as a community photographer. Even his love life follows a narrow path, as he lives with his first love, Esther, a pretty nurse at the local hospital. Although the couple sometimes dream of moving to a city to further Sam’s photography career or Esther’s modeling aspirations, they’re relatively complacent in their provincial life. Siwicki’s introductory prose is clear and descriptive. However, the main characters lack dimension, and readers may find it a challenge to become invested in their story. Sam’s ordinary life is shaken up, though, when a mysterious man from a prestigious magazine commissions him to photograph the estate of a famed, missing architect. Sam embarks on a long, overnight drive to the site. Alone in the car, he muses about the transitory nature of memories and life. These interludes read like a surrealist film monologue: “Is everything just a solitary moment? Is time eventually used up, then gone forever? Where does time come from, and where does it go?” As Sam drives along the highway, Siwicki explores the four possible states of consciousness that give the novel its title, and the consequences of each. The premise is intriguing, and it would probably translate well as a film. However, its execution here is confusing. During the driving segments, for example, Siwicki refers to Sam simply as “the driver,” and readers may initially think that he’s a different character. It’s also difficult to decipher which events transpire in reality and which don’t; however, that may be the author’s point. Sam’s camera also seems to play a sort of magical role, but this idea isn’t fully realized.

A creatively constructed narrative that doesn’t come together in a fully satisfying way.

Pub Date: June 17, 2013

ISBN: 978-1480288355

Page Count: 234

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2015

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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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