An entertaining appreciation of one woman's journey, sometimes ribald and funny, sometimes ironic and self-deprecating.

THE REALM OF HUNGRY SPIRITS

Marina Lucero reads the Dalai Lama, ponders Gandhi and yearns for inner peace. What she has is a challenging and needy family and a demanding and clueless set of friends.

Thirty-something Marina, a San Fernando Valley schoolteacher, had a mother who joined a Carmelite cloister when Marina was a child and a father who drank. Marina remains a bit resentful about her childhood, at least when her extended Hispanic family allows her time to think about it. There's older sister Della and her aimless dyslexic son Kiko. There's younger sister Xochi and her hapless sometime boyfriend Reggie. Then there is Rudy, Marina's former boyfriend, who thinks a failed relationship should provide fringe benefits. Marina does love Rudy's daughter, Letty, whom Marina mothered into adulthood. Letty's new baby, little Rudy, is hospitalized and mortally ill. Marina must rush to the aid of Letty and her husband, Miguel, a recovering drug addict, because that's what Marina does. She is a motherly caretaker, a woman constantly dancing between fatigue and self-imposed obligation. The book finds Marina teaching summer school, coping with Kiko and Reggie, both living on her couches, and providing intermittent refuge for Carlotta, her sweet next-door neighbor who is a punching bag for her out-of-work husband. Little Rudy dies, Letty attempts suicide, Carlotta is knocked into a hospital bed by her husband and Rudy demands that Marina give a false legal deposition so that his friend, Nestor, a Santeria priest, a voodoo babalawo, can escape child support payments. While dealing with these "hungry spirits," Marina generates romantic sparks with Carlos Lozano, an attractive and intelligent art teacher, and Arturo Ortiz, a nervous and engaging young doctor finishing his residency. López (Homicide Survivors Picnic and Other Stories, 2009, etc.) imagines believable characters and observes their world with literary insight.

An entertaining appreciation of one woman's journey, sometimes ribald and funny, sometimes ironic and self-deprecating.

Pub Date: May 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-446-54963-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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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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