An endearingly flawed actor’s thoughts come to life thanks to swift and clever prose.

STRUTTING AND FRETTING

A young man in a theater troupe struggles to get his life together in the wake of graduate school and a failed marriage.

By the first few pages of McKeon’s debut novel, protagonist and narrator Bob is convinced that it’s “all over, college, grad school, the seventies and the marriage.” The actor is on a “sweat-soaked” Naugahyde bus seat with his friend Ripley. It’s 1980, and the two 25-year-olds have accepted paid summer residencies at the PCPA theater, a well-known company in the central California tourist town of Santa Maria, in order to actively run from the realities of having just finished MFAs. What the PCPA fails to offer them in terms of speaking roles, money, and a glamorous locale it more than makes up for with its host of fascinating fellow actors. The members of the company start to couple and uncouple in between wild, hazy parties and rehearsals for everything from Henry V to Death of a Salesman. But, being theatrical and eccentric, these are not your average quirky 20-somethings; there’s a fugitive from the FBI, a man who refuses to be separated from his dog, and Bob’s sublimely blunt roommate, Angie—who, like the protagonist, might have gotten married much too young. Each encounter forces Bob to come to terms with his insecurities, his unsuccessful marriage, and what his craft still has to teach him about life. A final twist on the very last page is one of the few moments that land with a disappointing thud—but only because Bob’s subsequent reaction is missing. Intriguing as they are, the other characters are mere stage directions for the real star: Bob’s wry inner monologue. His thoughts jump from the self-aggrandizing fervor of an improvised audition to the somber rerun of his wife’s departure before ending with a perfectly timed, caustic joke (“Ripley was raised Catholic. He knew all about” self-loathing, Bob says at one point, casually reducing his only real friend in the world). McKeon times these beats impeccably; he writes with a kinetic energy that propels Bob’s darkest and funniest moments at the same pace, making for both a fully realized narrator and a compulsive read.

An endearingly flawed actor’s thoughts come to life thanks to swift and clever prose.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-90971-3

Page Count: 214

Publisher: Strutting & Fretting

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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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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