A rich, character-driven foray into a harrowing time.

FLORIDIAN NIGHTS

A middle-aged gay man pieces his life back together in a romance set against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

Thirty-five-year-old New Yorker Gary Gaines’ longtime boyfriend and partner Becker died of a heart attack three years ago, in 1985, and he’s still reeling from the loss. Then he meets a handsome, 22-year-old waiter named Rick, and they begin a torrid, often tumultuous, love affair. In some ways, this is a familiar story: Gary is a jaded urbanite, haunted by the deaths of his friends from AIDS, while Rick is a transplant from the Midwest—“A little town called St. Trier, Minnesota”—and an aspiring singer who fled to the city to realize his dreams. The novel plays out as a clash of generations, exploring a queer relationship following one man who came of age before HIV and another who came of age after its emergence. Ringel impresses with his nuanced depiction of this generational divide; sexual tension combines with jealousy as Rick desires everything that Gary had and lost. After Gary has his own HIV–related scare and loses his job writing reports at a nameless World Trade Center office, he leaves New York, bound for his parents’ home near Tampa Bay, Florida. This adventure lends the novel its dreamy title; when Rick, too, arrives in Florida to visit Gary, the two embark on a quixotic road trip across the state to bury the past and welcome the future. In this novel’s finest hours—often at night, during caustic exchanges between Rick and Gary—it feels like a brilliant stage play, as the verbal sparring smartly highlights queer culture and generational differences. However, the work is far less adept at tackling race-related issues, which it does via relatively flat conversations involving two characters of Japanese descent: Gary’s brother-in-law, Gil Sukigawa, and a new acquaintance, Keiko Miyama. For the most part, though, this is a solid trip that readers won’t regret taking.

A rich, character-driven foray into a harrowing time.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-737-6695-0-0

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Distant Mirror Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2021

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Gigantic, strange, exquisite, terrifying, and replete with mystery.

TO PARADISE

A triptych of stories set in 1893, 1993, and 2093 explore the fate of humanity, the essential power and sorrow of love, and the unique doom brought upon itself by the United States.

After the extraordinary reception of Yanagihara's Kirkus Prize–winning second novel, A Little Life (2015), her follow-up could not be more eagerly awaited. While it is nothing like either of her previous novels, it's also unlike anything else you've read (though Cloud Atlas, The House of Mirth, Martin and John, and Robertson Davies' Deptford Trilogy may all cross your mind at various points). More than 700 pages long, the book is composed of three sections, each a distinct narrative, each set in a counterfactual historical iteration of the place we call the United States. The narratives are connected by settings and themes: A house on Washington Square in Greenwich Village is central to each; Hawaii comes up often, most prominently in the second. The same names are used for (very different) characters in each story; almost all are gay and many are married. Even in the Edith Wharton–esque opening story, in which the scion of a wealthy family is caught between an arranged marriage and a reckless affair, both of his possible partners are men. Illness and disability are themes in each, most dramatically in the third, set in a brutally detailed post-pandemic totalitarian dystopia. Here is the single plot connection we could find: In the third part, a character remembers hearing a story with the plot of the first. She mourns the fact that she never did get to hear the end of it: "After all these years I found myself wondering what had happened....I knew it was foolish because they weren't even real people but I thought of them often. I wanted to know what had become of them." You will know just how she feels. But what does it mean that Yanagihara acknowledges this? That is just one of the conundrums sure to provoke years of discussion and theorizing. Another: Given the punch in the gut of utter despair one feels when all the most cherished elements of 19th- and 20th-century lives are unceremoniously swept off the stage when you turn the page to the 21st—why is the book not called To Hell?

Gigantic, strange, exquisite, terrifying, and replete with mystery.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54793-2

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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A warm and winning "When Harry Met Sally…" update that hits all the perfect notes.

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PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION

A travel writer has one last shot at reconnecting with the best friend she just might be in love with.

Poppy and Alex couldn't be more different. She loves wearing bright colors while he prefers khakis and a T-shirt. She likes just about everything while he’s a bit more discerning. And yet, their opposites-attract friendship works because they love each other…in a totally platonic way. Probably. Even though they have their own separate lives (Poppy lives in New York City and is a travel writer with a popular Instagram account; Alex is a high school teacher in their tiny Ohio hometown), they still manage to get together each summer for one fabulous vacation. They grow closer every year, but Poppy doesn’t let herself linger on her feelings for Alex—she doesn’t want to ruin their friendship or the way she can be fully herself with him. They continue to date other people, even bringing their serious partners on their summer vacations…but then, after a falling-out, they stop speaking. When Poppy finds herself facing a serious bout of ennui, unhappy with her glamorous job and the life she’s been dreaming of forever, she thinks back to the last time she was truly happy: her last vacation with Alex. And so, though they haven’t spoken in two years, she asks him to take another vacation with her. She’s determined to bridge the gap that’s formed between them and become best friends again, but to do that, she’ll have to be honest with Alex—and herself—about her true feelings. In chapters that jump around in time, Henry shows readers the progression (and dissolution) of Poppy and Alex’s friendship. Their slow-burn love story hits on beloved romance tropes (such as there unexpectedly being only one bed on the reconciliation trip Poppy plans) while still feeling entirely fresh. Henry’s biggest strength is in the sparkling, often laugh-out-loud-funny dialogue, particularly the banter-filled conversations between Poppy and Alex. But there’s depth to the story, too—Poppy’s feeling of dissatisfaction with a life that should be making her happy as well as her unresolved feelings toward the difficult parts of her childhood make her a sympathetic and relatable character. The end result is a story that pays homage to classic romantic comedies while having a point of view all its own.

A warm and winning "When Harry Met Sally…" update that hits all the perfect notes.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0675-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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