A TOWER FOR THE SUMMER HEAT

A spirited, enchanting collection of stories from the 17th- century Chinese playwright and raconteur in a vivid translation, the first in English: a fitting companion to Li Yu's acclaimed erotic satire The Carnal Prayer Mat (1990). Although the original text from which these six spicy tales were taken contained a dozen stories, the full measure of Li Yu's wit comes through in Hanan's selection. Each narrative begins with a short poetic introduction and commentary and concludes with a quick critique, in a style typical of the day, but the distinctive ribald nature of this assortment soon becomes apparent. The title story follows a young man using the latest in modern technology—a telescope—to spy on his neighbors in search of an acceptably pretty wife, whom he proceeds to win by tapping his secret knowledge of her to make her think him omniscient, then tricking her father into agreeing to the match. Other tales are built on similarly delightful subterfuge, whether through the manipulations of an audacious con artist, the scourge of all China, who finally decides to lead a righteous and holy life but first dupes a pair of rich benefactors into building his temple; or through the wiles of a young rake gratefully unburdened of an ugly wife by her early death, who pursues the most beautiful girl in the area and her equally lovely maid/companion, winning them both after having turned his attentions from the former to the latter, a sharp- witted, practical woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. Subtle comedies of marriage and Chinese society, these give charming evidence of a true master's touch, easily bridging more than 300 years to be fresh and vibrant today.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-345-37853-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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