LIKE TREES, WALKING

Maddeningly bland story of contemporary racial injustice.

Looking back from the present to his final year of high school, Roy Deacon recalls an almost idyllic time when his life in Alabama seemed to revolve around solid and sensible choices. The son of hardworking members of Mobile’s black middle-class, Roy could count on the respect of his neighbors, the support of his community and the quiet pride his family took in his academic achievements. But he also knew his father expected him to join the family business and become an undertaker. Roy, a thoughtful and self-contained young man, made no overt protest against this predestined career, but all the same, he remembers longing for a more exciting and dramatic life—the sort his much-admired brother Paul seemed poised to enjoy. The comfortable rhythms of Roy’s neighborhood are suddenly shattered when his brother Paul finds one of their friends lynched. The crime shakes the foundations of the black community, precipitating a series of wrenching questions: How can a young black man be lynched in 1981? Is it possible to escape the burdens of family history? Of regional and racial history? Is progress possible? The novel’s setup is provocative, but Roy is too slight a character to bear the weight, as narrator, of the questions the author wants to raise. Remote when he means to be ruminative, he seems never to fully focus the passion and confusion he is describing. Indeed, the inevitable plot twist at the end loses some of its force because Roy seems such a detached and unobservant witness to the personal toll exacted by historical injustice. Howard has a nice ear for dialogue and generates a cast of sympathetic secondary characters, but the story plods along without any sense of the dramatic tension that underwrites almost all of its events.

Disappointing.

Pub Date: March 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-06-052959-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2007

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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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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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