DREAMS OF GOLD

Two Jewish orphans flee Victorian London for a life as retailers to the Confederacy. Someday someone will get a handle on the wonderful story of the Jews who brought modern merchandising to the remotest corners of Dixie and whose stores are still the place to shop everywhere from Birmingham to Memphis. Until then, we are left with the likes of this plodding, ultra-sincere but humorlessly romantic history by the author of The Proprietor's Daughter (1988), etc. Here, Nathan Solomon and his cousin Leonora, orphaned early by a train wreck, have been left to the care of their dry-goods merchant uncle Samuel, who keeps them in his Bloomsbury home but works them to exhaustion in his store. Outraged by Uncle Sam's treatment of his starving subcontractor seamstress, and tipped by their kindly aunt to uncle's secret hoard of gold pieces, Nathan and Leonora flee to New Orleans, where they are taken under the wing of a kindly Jewish cotton trader. Nathan learns all about cotton, gambling, dueling, and love. There are romances with glamorous Creoles, swordfights, plagues, and lessons in moderate democracy. The cousins learn to love the South but loathe slavery. Leonora loves Nathan but gets engaged to somebody else. Nathan loves and loses. The Civil War brings the end of the good life in the Big Easy, and everybody goes off to Atlanta to start from scratch and become the founders of a nice department store. All this is told in quaint, mid-20th-century fifth-grade textbook prose. Safe, snoozy saga.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-8217-4015-6

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Kensington

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1992

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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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