A well-researched reimagining of what was once called “the crime of the century.”

Homo Superiors

Fields’ (Countrycide: Stories, 2014, etc.) latest novel offers a sympathetic look at a pair of murderers.

The author recasts one of the most infamous cases of the 20th century and brings it into the modern era, replacing the deluded Chicago-based killers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb of the 1920s with present-day alter egos Noah Kaplan and Ray Klein. Noah is a shy, brainy 18-year-old, nervous about his sexuality and mad for bird-watching. His classmate Ray, a budding sociopath, idolizes Friedrich Nietzsche and dreams of becoming an Übermensch, or superior man: “we’d be seeing colors we don’t even know are around us, understanding time the way it really is, and not this day/night/harvest season animalistic calculating we’ve been doing so far,” he tells Noah. Ray, though heterosexual, accommodates Noah’s crush on him in exchange for Noah’s collaboration in some very bad ideas: “Ray could be a bit of a user. Noah knew that, and knew that he liked being used by Ray because it netted him more time in the boy’s presence.” Ray soon drags Noah along for excursions into theft, arson, and, eventually, murder. The real-life Leopold and Loeb confessed to choosing a 14-year-old boy, taking him off the street into their car, and laboriously chiseling his head apart. Fields has done her research: her own book ends abruptly with Ray and Noah cruising through their own Chicago neighborhood, armed with “a heavy chisel with the blade taped up for bludgeoning.” It was a wise move on the author’s part to end her novel just at the moment when no amount of work could make readers feel sympathy toward poor, misguided Noah. As it stands, however, she’s acquitted herself as a modern-day Clarence Darrow, creating as compelling a brief for the defense as Noah Kaplan (or Nathan Leopold) could possibly hope to have. She writes so arrestingly of thwarted desire and social awkwardness that readers may briefly believe themselves to be inside Noah’s own skin. Overall, it’s a thoroughly unsettling book.

A well-researched reimagining of what was once called “the crime of the century.” 

Pub Date: June 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59021-626-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Lethe Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 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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