Uneven writing but provocative stories with a clear, vital message.

Gifts Not Yet Given

(AND OTHER TALES OF THE HOLIDAYS)

The holiday season adds further strain to complex, tense relationships in this diverse collection of short stories.

In 14 stories, Edwards-Stout (Songs for the New Depression, 2011) assumes an impressive range of voices: ball-breaking business woman, grade schooler struggling with gender identity, mother-to-be and transgender father, uprooted domestic worker, and more. This willingness to step inside the minds of such disparate, often nonmainstream characters hints at Edwards-Stout’s confidence as a writer and his broad life experiences. While a book that shifts perspectives so frequently could become dizzying, Edwards-Stout tethers his characters to recurring themes of giving, holidays and acceptance. In “The Old Rugged Cross,” Cassandra follows her son, Reggie, from Alabama to California. He’s a fireman, a profession that killed his father, Cassandra’s husband. While Cassandra is content in Jackson, Ala., and in the honest work of a domestic, she misses her son and yields to his pleas to relocate: “He was all she had, aside from Jesus.” But when Reggie dies just before Christmas in the line of duty, Cassandra abandons Jesus and her old, weathered Bible: “[S]he banished it to a drawer, piling other books on top, as if to suffocate it.” Cassandra revels in being forsaken until she learns to accept her son’s choices, his dedication to service and her own source of passion. Acceptance—of oneself and of others—is Edwards-Stout’s resounding message. Elsewhere, in “The Cape,” a young man struggles to accept the death of many friends from AIDS; in “Hearts,” a high school girl learns to accept being Jewish; and in “Gifts Not Yet Given,” a mother finds a heartbreaking but tender way to accept giving her child up for adoption. Edwards-Stout’s stories are original and important, yet the delivery isn’t flawless. Awkward sentence structures throughout the book tend to stall reading and force characters to perform the impossible: “Running back out to the car, Paul hauled in his last items.” And in several stories, a change of heart comes too easily. For instance, during a single visit, a mother appears to abandon her lifelong bias against her child’s gender identity. Readers appreciate some resolution, but the kind of acceptance these characters seek is often too easily won here.

Uneven writing but provocative stories with a clear, vital message.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2013

ISBN: 978-0983983736

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Circumspect Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2013

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There are unforgettable beauties in this very sexy story.

TELL ME LIES

Passion, friendship, heartbreak, and forgiveness ring true in Lovering's debut, the tale of a young woman's obsession with a man who's "good at being charming."

Long Island native Lucy Albright, starts her freshman year at Baird College in Southern California, intending to study English and journalism and become a travel writer. Stephen DeMarco, an upperclassman, is a political science major who plans to become a lawyer. Soon after they meet, Lucy tells Stephen an intensely personal story about the Unforgivable Thing, a betrayal that turned Lucy against her mother. Stephen pretends to listen to Lucy's painful disclosure, but all his thoughts are about her exposed black bra strap and her nipples pressing against her thin cotton T-shirt. It doesn't take Lucy long to realize Stephen's a "manipulative jerk" and she is "beyond pathetic" in her desire for him, but their lives are now intertwined. Their story takes seven years to unfold, but it's a fast-paced ride through hookups, breakups, and infidelities fueled by alcohol and cocaine and with oodles of sizzling sexual tension. "Lucy was an itch, a song stuck in your head or a movie you need to rewatch or a food you suddenly crave," Stephen says in one of his point-of-view chapters, which alternate with Lucy's. The ending is perfect, as Lucy figures out the dark secret Stephen has kept hidden and learns the difference between lustful addiction and mature love.

There are unforgettable beauties in this very sexy story.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6964-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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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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