A carefully considered character study that digs deep to explore the ways the past can shade and shape the present.

THE UNKNOWN BRIDESMAID

In this dark, disquieting novel, veteran British writer Forster (Isa & May, 2011, etc.) toggles back and forth in time to explore the enduring effects of guilt on a child psychologist whose own difficult youth casts an unshakeable shadow across her adult life.

Julia spends her days interviewing troubled children in her clinic, trying to tease out the truth in conflicting stories and the root causes of problematic behavior, but in fact, she understands these children more than anyone may be aware. Though she appears to others a model of maturity—a hard worker, a homeowner, a newly appointed magistrate—she carries with her the unresolved conflicts, unanswered questions, unshared secrets and unspoken confessions of her own uneasy youth. Julia has followed a path of poor choices, either unable or unwilling to turn back or change course, ever since, at age 8, she was invited to serve as a bridesmaid at the wedding of her beautiful cousin Iris. She has acted cruelly, stolen casually, lied calculatedly, refused to acknowledge kindness and concern—and her actions have taken a toll. But did Julia, as a little girl, kill Iris' baby? And, even as she helps others correct course, will she ever find the resolve to go back and correct her own? These questions underpin Forster's patchwork narrative—and in a sense weigh it down and limit its scope. The accomplished author reaches deep to explore hidden truths and raises issues about resolving past conflicts, but in contending with these topics, somewhat heavy-handedly, she doesn't cover much territory. Thin on plot, the book may be best regarded as a character study carrying lessons about facing one's past, righting one's wrongs and using one's experience to help others. That message alone may resonate with some readers.

A carefully considered character study that digs deep to explore the ways the past can shade and shape the present.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60945-222-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: July 24, 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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