THE DISTANT LANDS

The US debut of a meganovel of the Old South by American expatriate Green, begun in 1934, put aside when Gone With the Wind appeared, completed in the 1980's and very successfully published- -more than 650,000 copies sold, we're told—in 1987 in Europe. The life and loves of beautiful Elizabeth Escridge, the 16- year-old English girl who comes to stay with her wealthy Hargrove cousins when her aristocratic father dies, are chronicled at a pace as languorous and enervating as a summer's day at Dinwood plantation, the Hargroves' Georgia home. Set in the years 1850-52, the possibility of war with the North is a pervasive subtext and handy dinner-party topic useful for alarming assembled guests and teaching Elizabeth more Southern history. Meanwhile, there are oblique hints of family secrets and plantation mysteries: a fatal fire in Haiti, where the Hargroves once lived; a forbidden wood of the damned; and a resident Welshwoman who terrifies them all. Elizabeth, at first homesick, soon adjusts and falls in love with notorious Jonathan Armstrong, whom she barely speaks to but just knows she loves, as he does her, though he nevertheless marries wealthy Creole and former prostitute Annabel. Then, when wealthy Uncle Charlie from Savannah takes her to Virginia, Elizabeth falls in love with and marries his son Ned. Naturally, it can't and doesn't end well: Ned and Jonathan kill each other in a duel; Elizabeth bears a son of debated paternity; and the War between the States draws closer. The Distant Lands is no Gone With the Wind, no matter how many mint juleps and magnolias fill its pages. Too melodramatic, too stiff, with a heroine sans any redeeming panache or intelligence: a readable but less-than-riveting tome whose transatlantic popularity says more about them than us.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-7145-2909-5

Page Count: 902

Publisher: Marion Boyars

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1991

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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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