A well-written, thoughtful treatment not just of a popular literary trope but of a nagging social issue.


The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery

A humorous and surprising satire of both the zombie apocalypse and the culture of addiction.

Bill, a middle-aged man once poised for a promising career in politics, greets several winners of the New York Lottery. It’s become his dubious honor to calm the winners down and get them prepared for the requisite press conference. The characters are always the same: overweight and all too ready to take the lump sum and blow the winnings as quickly as possible. But the striking Courtney catches his eye. He sees there is something different about her. Young and apparently strong, he figures she’ll actually be wise enough to collect her money over time. Bill is so well-rendered and the set piece of the conference—its humanity, humor and banality—so convincing that by the time the lottery winners, reporters and staff members (eventually, the entire city) are brutally ravaged by zombies, it actually comes across as an enjoyable shock. Despite its grizzly gore, the zombie apocalypse here is worn rather lightly, and as Bill and Courtney face their travails in a destroyed city and ponder what has kept them alive, the deeper layers of both humor and allegory arise. Bill and Courtney discover that, despite differences in age and experience, both their lives have been colored by alcoholism and addiction. Courtney, though not seemingly an addict, was reared in the environment of addiction. As they make their way through and away from the city, they collect other survivors, one of the more interesting being a young man they find in a jail cell. He convinces the group that he’s not a killer but a drug dealer by trade, just trying to make his way through the recession. Though somewhat derivative in its treatment of the zombie mythos, the novel’s final passages—with a sharp focus on survivors still learning to deal with addiction and the consequences of self-reliance, denial and dependence—are wholly original and a satisfying end. Despite it being yet another foray into the land of the undead, the care taken in both characterization and prose earns the reader’s time.

A well-written, thoughtful treatment not just of a popular literary trope but of a nagging social issue.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-0991066810

Page Count: 238

Publisher: HOW Club Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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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Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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