THE WRITER'S TRADE & OTHER STORIES

Delbanco, author of the Sherbrookes trilogy (Possession, Sherbrookes, Stillness), here offers a second collection of intelligent but surfacey stories (About My Table, 1983), all concerning writers (mostly male) who must accommodate their illusions to reality. Of the nine pieces, the best is "The Day's Catch," a novella: David Levin, the protagonist, a writer who lives on Martha's Vineyard as companion to a blind boy, is concerned with voice—"the play of utterance—its registered timbre and range." By story's end, Levin, middle-aged, and his wife attempt to recapture their marriage on a Caribbean island, but Levin "had used up their story." The effective title story describes the coming-of-age of callow Mark Fusco, "enrolled in the school of real life"; after a publication party for his successful novel, a train accident spoils his literary illusions—but the analysis of those illusions becomes his subject. Of the rest: in "You Can Use My Name," three Iowa Writers' Workshop grads keep in touch for years, until, finally, Adam sees famous Richard in dissipation, and former lover Marian as "one chatty woman, spooning fruit." Likewise, "Palinurus" concerns a famous novelist and his lesser patron, a "writer who teaches" and who becomes the novelist's literary executor, subordinating his own life to the needs of executorship. "His Masquerade" concerns a professor unexpectedly moved by a mediocre but sincere visiting poet; in "The Brass Ring," a mid-life novelist of limited reputation sees a younger brother suffer through a bout with Guillain-Barr‚ syndrome; "Everything" is modified stream-of-consciousness about a writer near the end of his life as he waits to be photographed. The metaphor of the writer writing can wear thin, but, still, this is a solid—if specialized—collection about the disillusions and small epiphanies of the literary life.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 1989

ISBN: 0688047327

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1989

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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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