A mixed bag that succeeds in spite of itself.

QUEST OF THE SLEEPING PRINCESS

In her second novel, Sheeran (Who Have the Power, 2006) explores a woman’s fascination with the ballet world.

Structured around a gala performance of the New York City Ballet in ’88, the book names each chapter with a piece from the program. The action revolves around Susan, who is watching the performance (as italicized paragraphs describe the dance onstage) and is a story within a story. This voyeuristic subplot, which also involves singing, romance and some backstage melodrama, is the most interesting aspect of the book and could stand on its own. Yet a different part of the narrative has Susan taking care of her dying mother and being involved with ballet boosterism. The book covers many areas, including dance theory and history. The author uses letters to elaborate on Susan’s dance analysis and gives a complete bibliography to a character. The book also discusses artistic motivations, Balanchine, how dance is interpreted over time, what the dancer brings to the revival of a classic, music, the image of women in folklore and dance, Campbell’s Masks of God series and the use of the sleeping princess as a motif. The book is impressive in its research with quotations throughout, but sometimes Susan comes across as a sort of walking graduate thesis on Balanchine. Sheeran captures the escapist nature of watching ballet and the identification of the audience with the dancers. With an autobiographical slant, the author also delves into the artistic process of singing and indulges her interest in Balanchine (she has performed Songs From the Balanchine Repertory). Her elliptical style takes some time to adapt to, and the many layers of the book can make it challenging for the reader to know whether he is in Susan’s mind, outside the theater or with her mother. But the story moves along, keeping the pages turning.

A mixed bag that succeeds in spite of itself.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2010

ISBN: 978-0982632109

Page Count: 265

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2010

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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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