An erudite, richly layered, and unsettling psychological tale.

FINGER OF AN ANGEL

A grieving mother embarks on a mind-expanding journey in this novel.

Lily, or “Lily the Pink,” as she is known at “naked yoga,” is a 60-something woman who is a member of the “strictly-by-invitation-only” website “come-to-woody.com.” The site allows “perfectly respectable” professionals to meet for anonymous sexual encounters in a “secret little wood somewhere north of Hampstead Heath,” London. She has a strained relationship with Gemma, her 29-year-old daughter, who “doesn’t approve of” her lifestyle. And yet elements of Lily’s hedonism are linked to her first child, Tommy, who died at 8 after slipping out of the hands of his irritated father, Frank, at bathtime and suffering a fatal fall. During one of her ventures to Hampstead Heath, the air-conditioning on Lily’s classic Mercedes fails. In the heat, she begins to experience strange phenomena. She sees her dead son in the eyes of a fly she identifies as the angel Ithuriel. She later encounters two men, one of whom she instantly recognizes as “the devil incarnate.” All the while, Lily consults with her alter ego, Bella, nicknamed the “Unexploded Bomb.” As in his previous novels, Cacoyannis (The Madness of Grief, 2018, etc.) deftly builds complex psychological portraits of his characters. Here, his fiction employs magic realism to both blur and sharpen Lily’s shifting mindscape. As she sits in the suffocating heat of the car, her altering vision is at first understandable: “Trickles of sweat had already found their way into her eyes, but she could see. The slight blurriness—the effect was of an old-fashioned photograph fuzzy from the grain of excessive enlargement.” Aberrations in her vision later become the “colourful brushstrokes” of a migraine aura, but she also inexplicably sees, behind a fly’s “ruby domes,” unmistakable eyes far more piercing than hers, belonging to her dead son. The author delights in leading readers to the unsteady territory between the possible and the impossible. His writing is intentionally disorienting and unnervingly addictive as readers grapple to make sense of two or more separate realities sewn seamlessly together. Cacoyannis is known for his introspective protagonists, but in this exceptional novel he delves even deeper, excavating the darkest corners of the psyche.

An erudite, richly layered, and unsettling psychological tale.

Pub Date: April 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-79879-080-9

Page Count: 167

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 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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