Landvik’s novel is happily filled with a double dose of nostalgia—the protagonist’s for the golden age of Hollywood and the...

BEST TO LAUGH

Landvik—playwright, actor and author of comic novels—delivers a semiautobiographical tale about a young woman who follows her showbiz dreams in 1970s Hollywood.

Candy Pekkala—half Korean, half Norwegian but all Minnesotan—has a college degree and no idea what comes next. When she’s offered the sublet of her cousin’s Hollywood digs, Candy moves to LA and Peyton Hall, a storied apartment building that once housed movie stars and is in some ways the real star of the novel. The current residents are less illustrious: Madame Pepper, a clairvoyant who advised old Hollywood; Ed, a substitute teacher who’s won a fortune on game shows; Maeve, the bodybuilding daughter of a TV soap star; Francis, the long-ago proprietor of LA’s ritziest nightclub. Peyton Hall’s aura inspires Candy to follow her long-buried ambition to give stand-up comedy a try. As she hones her act, Candy gets the kind of temp work found only in LA: stints at a record label and a literary agency; and a job labeling VHS tapes at a stand-in for the Playboy mansion. All this glitz and all the new friends she makes under the night-blooming jasmine transform Candy—who was a lonely child and drug-addled teen—into a confident young woman who can take her late mother’s advice that it’s best to laugh. Though Landvik offers an amiable stroll through Candy’s growing success, not everything works; a heavy reliance on diary entries and clunky comedy passages detract from an otherwise pleasant portrait of the quirky residents of a since-demolished Hollywood landmark.

Landvik’s novel is happily filled with a double dose of nostalgia—the protagonist’s for the golden age of Hollywood and the author’s for a lovably gritty 1970s Los Angeles.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2014

ISBN: 9780816694532

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Univ. of Minnesota

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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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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