Fast and upbeat, but not much substance or mystery.

ANOTHER FINE MESS

Bridget Montrose fears that her successful first novel was such a fluke that she’ll never write a second. With four small children to raise, the Palo Alto housewife can’t steal any time to work. So her acceptance at the prestigious Ars Ranch, a secluded writers’ retreat near Santa Cruz, seems like a godsend. Her raucous pals Liz and Claudia offer to look after her kids and her helpless husband Emery. Envisioning a pastoral paradise and toney discussions of literature, Bridget finds instead a gossipy snake pit obsessed not with who’s writing what but who’s doing whom. The guests includes a few obviously inspired by real-life writers (like incisive V.J. Sunjupany), and many more generic types like glamorous thriller-spinner Madeline Bates, condescending biographer Ed Weis, and lesbian feminist author Sandra Chastain, attending with Elaine, the girlfriend she can’t keep her hands off. But the strongest impression is made by bestselling novelist Johanna Ashbrook, who bursts drunkenly into Bridget’s room on a desperate search for alcohol just a few minutes after crisp Ars Foundation administrator Sharon Buskins instructs Bridget that “the only rule is no disturbing the other writers in their rooms.” After announcing that her new secret ghostwriter is among the guests, Johanna’s found floating in the ocean, and guest writers set themselves the parlor game of solving her murder. Because of Bridget’s involvement in a prior murder investigation (Revolting Development, 1993), Liz and Claudia crash the ranch to lend moral support—to the chagrin of investigating detective Gonzales.

Fast and upbeat, but not much substance or mystery.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2002

ISBN: 1-880284-54-5

Page Count: 216

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2002

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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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