A winning narrator enlivens a charming tale of a town facing modernity.

DANCING WITH THE SANDMAN

Garvin’s (And They Came, 2017, etc.) latest novel offers a reflection of one girl’s coming-of-age in small-town Texas in the 1960s.

Billie Jo Dunstan has returned to her hometown of Viney to help her mother move. Along the way, she can’t help but to reflect on the changing times. Short, scattered vignettes about friends and family illustrate an account of her childhood, which she spent on the cusp of the counterculture. Garvin has an entertaining way with metaphor. Billie Jo describes the onslaught of memories during her journey thusly: “Splat! Hit one ghost. Then another.” Growing up in a small town as the youngest of three sisters, Billie Jo developed a talent for “making [her] own fun.” Among her exploits were tagging along to her sister’s drive-in theater outings, growing brine shrimp marketed as “Sea-Monkeys,” and idly speculating about the world around her. Her models for womanhood are diverse and reflect the times: her sisters Beth Ann and Dena Jo; a cosmopolitan cousin from Arizona, Henrietta, who goes by the nickname “Hank”; and a seemingly perfect Southern belle named Lacy Jean. Billie Jo’s fantasies of teenage life hint at possibility, just as her family history does; she recounts, in great detail, her ancestors’ gruesome experiences fleeing war and surviving the arid West Texas landscape, while tracing her family’s origins back to Scotland in the 1600s. Garvin portrays this history with unflinching honesty, never shying away from depicting the overt racial bigotry of the time and place. Interwoven with Billie Jo’s adventures is the story of Ernesto, also known as “Big Daddy,” a local rock musician who leaves Texas in search of fame. Together, their stories illustrate how social change affected the slow-paced, deeply Christian town. While Ernesto hunts for rock band Santana in Los Angeles, Billie Jo takes trips to the local soda shop, where she hears the music of the Beach Boys and the Cowsills. Garvin is at her best when offering these cheeky nods to the past, never getting bogged down in nostalgia.

A winning narrator enlivens a charming tale of a town facing modernity.

Pub Date: March 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-942624-25-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Crystal Publishing LLC

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2018

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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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