This short collection seems like a sampler platter from a writer who may well have a fictional feast in him.

THE DUNNING MAN

A variety of narrative perspectives, most drenched in alcohol, enhance this debut collection of six stories.

Practically every character in these stories is Irish-American—except for the improbably varied cast of entertainers in the long, last title story—and most of them drink, mostly to excess. It is thus something of a marvel, if not a contradiction, that the observations remain so sharp, the prose so precise, as the narrators slosh toward oblivion or awaken to horrendous hangovers. The whole notion of narrative perspective proves tricky throughout, as the plots unfold through the eyes of narrators who initially present themselves as observers but often become the pivotal characters, revealing as much or more about themselves in the process of telling about others. In the opening “Dead,” for example, Connor stereotypes those making a pilgrimage to Atlantic City as a way of distinguishing himself: “I tell myself I am different from these bus people. I have a job, and a profession to which I will eventually return. I’ve eaten in five-star restaurants. I’ve slept with a Lands’ End model—twice.” Connor (or at least someone with the same name) returns in the last story, now a property speculator in Atlantic City in a building where a gangsta rapper throws all-night orgies, a deadbeat entertainer with a short-term lease keeps a tiger, and a single mother provides a slim possibility of romance and redemption. “Weddings and Burials” offers a subtle, emotionally complex story about an Irish wedding that somehow encapsulates a previous generation’s marriages, relationships and missed opportunities, while “Sullapalooza” presents an even more raucous celebration, narrated in the second person by the black-sheep drunk brother of the town’s powerful fixer. 

This short collection seems like a sampler platter from a writer who may well have a fictional feast in him.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-935084-63-1

Page Count: 142

Publisher: Lavender Ink

Review Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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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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