The sort of book that puts the shine back on genre as an adjective to describe fiction.

LET HIM GO

Spartan prose for a Spartan tale of badlands justice set in North Dakota and eastern Montana in the fall of 1951.

Watson’s writing (American Boy, 2011, etc.) is the principal pleasure here. The story is simple, ageless. Margaret Blackledge wants her grandson, Jimmy, back in Dalton, N.D. Daughter-in-law Lorna, her husband dead, has hooked up with the suave Donnie Weboy. Weboys are clannish, violent. Margaret appears prepared to undertake this adventure alone. Her husband, George, former sheriff, strong and silent, not quite the man he used to be, agrees to come. They set off in their old car, period details used sparingly, to wrest from a mother her child, to preserve a family broken by circumstance and hardship, to tempt fate. Grief has marked this fool’s errand from the outset—indelibly. To call the voice that narrates this novel omniscient is accurate only in so far as it describes the fictional convention. We hear an uninflected human voice that knows the outcome of this dark tale and tales like it. No one we meet, and no action taken, is beyond the expected conventions of a bleak American West: “[I]f I never hear again about what’s hard for a man, it’ll be too goddamn soon.”

The sort of book that puts the shine back on genre as an adjective to describe fiction.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-57131-102-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2013

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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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