At times unwieldy but a harrowing book about the horrors of motherhood, jealousy, and war trauma.

THE WEIGHT OF THINGS

In the first novel available in English by the late Austrian writer Fritz (1948-2007), a woman faces her dark past when friends visit her in a mental hospital.

Set in Austria between 1945 and 1963, this poison cocktail of a novel swirls together painful personal histories and desperate hidden lives. A chauffeur named Wilhelm returns from the war to the city of Donaublau to marry Berta, keeping a promise made to a friend killed in battle. Berta’s friend Wilhelmine, a cleaning woman, eyes his arrival with suspicion and jealousy. Early on the novel reads like farce as the narrative clomps around in time; the misdirection doesn’t generate much mystery but pays dividends as events unfold. Things pick up when the action skips ahead 15 years to the day Wilhelm and Wilhelmine, now unhappily married, debate the best time to “pay Berta a visit and cheer her up” in the mental hospital. Fritz layers in much beauty and tragedy to show how Berta’s life was undone by grief, rancor from Wilhelmine, parenting two difficult kids, and “yearning for an ideal.” Fritz puts on a stylistic show, the prose dancing in West’s translation from camp to romance to psychological horror amid name games and wild monologues that often hide the truth. The title is Berta’s name for the evil in the world that will crush innocence out of her children. The climax is a moral challenge to readers: the book's most sympathetic character commits its most horrific act. In a caged hospital ward, Berta is befriended by a woman called Wise Little Mother, who intones bons mots like, “life is hope and hope is a wound,” with a logic as beguiling and twisted as that motivating the sane in the outside world.

At times unwieldy but a harrowing book about the horrors of motherhood, jealousy, and war trauma.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9897607-7-5

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Dorothy

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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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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