An ambitious, intricately composed novel of medieval siblings.

Hieros Gamos

(SACRED UNION) A CONFESSION

In Cacciari’s debut medieval drama, a lord’s impending death ignites a volatile relationship between a brother and sister.

In the early 12th century, Reiner d’Ivry leaves the monastery, where he’s spent the better half of his childhood, to see to his dying father, the Lord of Sundorgate. Reiner soon learns that he’s been presumed dead and that his sister, Drusiana, is their father’s heir. She says she’ll relinquish her inheritance if Reiner leaves the cloister and stays in Sundorgate. Reiner, however, is determined to marry Drusiana off to a son of their father’s comrade-in-arms. The novel doesn’t offer a magical medieval tale with dragons, knights and clanking swords but a more realistic story of feuding siblings. Readers may find it much easier to sympathize with Drusiana, despite Reiner’s first-person perspective (presented as a confession to a fellow monk). Her reluctance to wed comes across as practical and almost endearing, as she cuts her hair short and dresses as a male. Her brother, meanwhile, is desperate to prove that Drusiana is insane or has a lover, and he slowly becomes deranged himself. His fierce account is often unnerving, as when he breaks into laughter when kneeling to pray and, at his lowest point, drops a rat into a pie that someone later eats. Readers may find it a challenge to follow such a frantic protagonist, but there’s a short reprieve when Reiner returns to the monastery. He soon learns why Drusiana hasn’t sought a potential husband, and the story takes a gleefully dark turn. Cacciari steeps the narrative in the language of its era, so readers with a fear of medieval dialect may want to steer clear, but others will appreciate how the dialogue shuns modernization. Others will be swayed by Reiner’s haunting, ominous moments (“I had shut my eyes as a child and awakened an old man.”). The novel also includes glossaries with Latin translations.

An ambitious, intricately composed novel of medieval siblings.

Pub Date: March 25, 2013

ISBN: 978-0615679969

Page Count: 364

Publisher: Bernician

Review Posted Online: May 28, 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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