An impressive mixture of emotional exploration and formal experiment.

MONSTERS

Structurally ambitious flash fiction that examines all the ways—great and small—in which characters can be haunted.

The monsters in this latest collection from multigenre writer Brennan (Little Dark, 2014, etc.) range from the recognizable (ghosts, zombies) to the whimsical (a talking cat) to the darkly realistic (brain damage, a cancer diagnosis). These 39 stories, many of which are only a few pages long and some of which clock in at just a paragraph, foreground their construction: they are as much about language and form as they are about plot and character. In the title story, a father tells the tale of his daughter’s traumatic brain injury, and as the story progresses, nonsense words get subtly swapped for real ones, mimicking the breakdown of language the daughter goes through. “Last Quartet” is about four characters on a road trip—one of whom is dying—and every paragraph is comprised of four sentences, each devoted to a different person’s perspective. But if this all seems overly dour or overly fussy, it isn’t. Each story is infused with humor, most often a wry treatment of character and a deadpan delivery. (“To Whom It May Concern in My Creative Writing Class: A ‘fascinator’ is a kind of hat,” one narrator abruptly explains.) The stories can veer into the absurd, too, as in “The Corpse and Its Admirers,” the story of three women, perhaps at a funeral home, who engage in increasingly outlandish behavior in the presence of the family patriarch’s corpse. And, as is so often the case with absurdism, if there aren’t many happy endings for Brennan’s characters (or, really, any endings at all), the reader is luckier: there is delight in merely reading these innovative and unusual stories.

An impressive mixture of emotional exploration and formal experiment.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2016

ISBN: 9781935536796

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Four Way

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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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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