A wild, steamy story with erudite sex-as-art undertones.

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THE LUNARIUM

Provocative, orgiastic snippets from a sexual voyeur’s social life.

Known for an oeuvre of titillating material, anonymous author K (Honey B., The Suite Life, 2012) explores the fascinating, visually active life of bearded, middle-aged “watcher” James Boyle O’Donahue. Irish, single and unlucky in love, O’Donahue fully embraces his penchant for voyeuristic, erotic, group events. Unapologetic to a fault, he allows himself to revel in this clandestine fetish, defensively remarking that the ones being watched are indeed willing participants—their “secret passions are not spoiled by a witness participating in the redefinition of privacy.” Armed with boundless energy, dynamic tour guide O’Donahue directs readers through a wide array of creatively themed sex clubs: Revelry, a “small luxurious pit surrounded by theater seats”; the Lunarium, a fantasy event where he accompanies an unnamed companion; and the Beach, with its taboo “Beyond the Rocks” private area that’s a “sexual potluck” starring 12 randy, experimental couples and a roomful of writhing performers at a lactating “tit talent show.” Written with verve and a contagious sense of exhibitionism, K’s first-person narrative is divided into 70 “things”: brief chapters that descriptively chart O’Donahue’s carnivalesque adventures at risqué live theater performances. Amid this plethora of vicariously thrilling and erotic “sexual fiestas,” O’Donahue takes time to philosophically ponder the nature of strippers, compares gawkers to voyeurs, gets schooled by a sex professor and breathlessly observes amazing (and not so amazing) feats of carnality. K doesn’t aim for subtlety, but as a whole, the sexual observances form an enlightening examination of voyeurism.

A wild, steamy story with erudite sex-as-art undertones.  

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-1466233010

Page Count: 196

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2013

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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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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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