WEST OF VENUS

After the story collection Mourning Doves (1993), first-timer Troy offers a peek at small- town lives that could easily have become melodrama but that, thanks to her sureness of touch and tone, pulls off the trick of staying both moving and real. Living in her hometown of Venus, Kansas (pop. 4,600), late 30ish Holly Parker is divorced, has a 16-year-old son who's going out with his own ex-teacher Crystal (twice his age), and hair that ``was beginning to streak with gray.'' None of this keeps Holly's spirits down (not permanently) or dulls her natural gift of the droll and acerbic—even though she has been thinking about death a lot lately. This isn't surprising, since just this past spring her best friend Marvelle Holman's husband committed suicide—a Vietnam vet who, at 50, never got out of his depression after coming home, choosing to tinker with his old motorcycle over doing much of anything with people. ``The funeral was a disaster,'' says Holly at the start, lamenting that more people hadn't come to pay their respects (the local paper had got the time wrong). But at least Gene Rollison arrives, the state trooper who's quiet, good-looking, unpretentious—and available. And so the novel, starting in death, will end up with love between Gene Rollison and somebody new. Maybe it'll be Holly, maybe Marvelle, maybe even Sue-Ellis, the dress-busting ex-dancer who also works as a waitress with the other two at the Hearth restaurant. Along the way will be a heart attack, another death, and a rich handful of local people who remain captivating, amusing, and real without ever becoming bumpkins—the undertaker, the veterinarian, even the preacher Franklin Sanders (`` `How do you spell ecumenical?' Franklin asked''). Quietly genuine, light of touch, deftly amusing, without a false note to be heard throughout. If only all tiny towns had such people in them, and so auspicious a writer as Troy to paint them for us.

Pub Date: May 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-679-45153-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1997

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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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