An intriguing but uneven war tale.

THE CENTER OF GRAVITY

In this debut novel set in World War II Europe, readers see courageous people struggling mightily with Nazism and enduring hair-raising experiences.

Brandon delivers two young protagonists—and their tumultuous vectors—Sonne Becker and Rainer von Bauchelle. The Beckers live in Berlin and hate the Nazi movement. The von Bauchelles live in Colmar, Alsace. They, too, are good people, and the teenage Rainer’s best friend is a Jew, Josef Taffel. Then Germany goes to war; Sonne’s father is conscripted; and the Nazis move into Colmar. After Rainer graduates from the University of Strasbourg with a degree in art history and restoration, he is a rising academic star who gets conscripted by the Nazis for his expertise. Meanwhile, Sonne is sent to the Wolf’s Lair, Hitler’s fortress, first as a food taster (Der Führer fears being poisoned). Later, because she is a beautiful specimen of Aryan womanhood, she is subjected to a forced artificial insemination. With the help of a sympathetic guard, she escapes, winding up at a museum in Konigsberg, where she and Rainer meet and soon plan to flee to America. Brandon’s tale is very bumpy. The prose can be overdone and too writerly, with a surplus of adjectives (“The man, a few inches taller than the others, was handsome in a classic rebellious kind of way, with thick brown hair tousled in rugged abandon about an intense face and the deepest of green eyes. He…saved his slow, lazy smile for Rennie”). But there are some effective scenes. An evening in 1938 with the Beckers and the fatuous, Nazi-loving Hirsch family, for example, is especially well handled. The Hirsches are appropriately arrogant and odious. Readers will also be cheered by the benevolent and heroic people that the protagonists meet along the way. One real historical nugget is the presence of Albert Göring—yes, Hermann’s brother—who in real life rescued as many people as he could and in these pages crosses paths with Sonne and Rainer. But Brandon should have stopped when she was ahead and ended the tale early, with a short and graceful denouement. Instead, the author offers a final reveal that will leave readers rolling their eyes. Even fiction has its limits—or should. 

An intriguing but uneven war tale.

Pub Date: May 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5136-4909-2

Page Count: 317

Publisher: Out Reach Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 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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