While it sometimes meanders, this amusing tale with a quirky hero offers plenty of surprises.

THE ARMAGEDDON TWO-STEP

A comical novel explores the consequences of saving the world.

Boise, Idaho, native Shelby Albert Goddard has saved the world. The details of how, exactly, he did this remain murky but it is true: Without Shelby’s actions, the planet would no longer exist. And this deed has made Shelby quite the celebrity. He can purchase 10-cent tacos at Taco Bell; he never has to pay taxes again; and his face has been added to Mount Rushmore. But for all his good fortune, Shelby is lonely. The only person he can really talk to is a secret agent named Roger Valkyrie, who, when dressed in a suit, looks strikingly like Agent Smith in The Matrix. As Shelby’s fame wanes, he decides to hit the road. He takes up with a fledgling church in Arkansas and gets hired by a mysterious, wealthy company in Chicago. He makes people worry that he may jump off a bridge and he creates his own foundation to help those in need. But what, in the end, will he learn about himself? Gray’s (Exile on Kalamazoo Street, 2014, etc.) story indulges in whimsy from the start. While Shelby may not be able to articulate what he did to save the globe, it doesn’t really matter. From the opening pages, he is off and running, buying his low-cost fast food and looking for somewhere to go. That he winds up in places as ordinary as Arkansas and Chicago makes his journey even stranger. The problem is that his adventure often fails to have much tension. In Chicago, Shelby eats deep-dish pizza, drinks Scotch, and engages in some laughable corporate speak (He is told to remember “visions, synergies, and realignments”) yet there isn’t much pressure at work. Does it really matter if he succeeds or fails? Shelby’s tastes may make him a likable enough protagonist yet not necessarily one worth rooting for. Nevertheless, to say the entire trip is an odd one is an understatement. As much as readers might like to know where the story is going, they will enjoy the abundant twists and turns down the road.    

While it sometimes meanders, this amusing tale with a quirky hero offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-946970-80-0

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Redbat Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2019

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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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