A gifted storyteller who parses battered dreams and the legacies of abandonment with a harsh realism that is both saddening...

THE FIGHTER

This resourceful writer weds violence, despair, and glimmers of hope during a few tense days in the life of a once-legendary bare-knuckle fighter.

In a brief prologue, Jack Boucher is abandoned at age 2 and bounces around foster homes before an unmarried woman named Maryann takes him in at age 12. As the main story opens, Jack is 50 and facing nothing but trouble. The bank is about to repossess Maryann’s house, and a vicious bookie has sent collectors to squeeze him for gambling debts. It gets worse. After winning $12,000 at a casino, Jack crashes his truck and wanders off in a daze, forgetting the money. The cash then slips into a subplot about a traveling carnival with ex-con roustabouts and a tattooed beauty named Annette. She and the carnie boss find the money, but there are complications, not least her possible ties to Jack. In flashbacks, Smith (Desperation Road, 2017, etc.) reveals the loving bonds Jack forms with Maryann and the thrill he discovers in the bare-knuckle cage, where he soon becomes a star in a bloody demimonde. But too many blows to the head leave him in constant pain and addicted to pills and booze that also cost him his edge in the cage—an edge he may need one last time. Smith could be nodding to the classical unities of place and time, with his three-day plot centered on Clarksdale, Mississippi. Other unifying factors are hard-edged, like the brass knuckles that appear four times in nearly 200 pages, or quasi-mystical, like a hawk that marks both Jack and Annette. These elements are subtly handled, but Smith shows less restraint by letting Jack’s pondering of his physical and psychological pain become a litany.

A gifted storyteller who parses battered dreams and the legacies of abandonment with a harsh realism that is both saddening and engaging.

Pub Date: March 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-43234-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Lee Boudreaux/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 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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