A lightweight, entertaining Broadway yarn.

The Role

A young New York actor finds his life imitating his art in this gay theater romance.

Mason Burroughs, an insecure, pudgy, 25-year-old actor, struggles for bit parts in Manhattan.   The only bright spot in his life is his relationship with live-in boyfriend Eric, a nice video game programmer. Through luck and connections, Mason lands the second lead in a Broadway period piece called Masque, featuring Elizabethan palace intrigue, knife play, lengthy dying soliloquies, and a hot-and-heavy bisexual love triangle. Playing the seductive Count Ezio to Mason’s ingénue soldier Caleb is Kevin Caldwell, a gorgeous, charming, selfish actor whom Mason had a fierce, unrequited crush on years ago and with whom he will now have to play a climactic nudish sex scene. Adding to the pressure are an obnoxious understudy who looks exactly like Mason and has obvious designs on his part and Kevin’s body; a stern personal trainer who gets Mason in shape with man-killing workouts and revolting organic teas; and an imperious director who puts Mason through bizarre nude theater exercises. (There is a lot of nudity in the book, not all of it germane to character development.) Mason sheds pounds and adds muscle, builds his acting chops, and spends rehearsals making out with Kevin onstage—and finds his erstwhile lust now earnestly returned. Will he dump poor Eric and succumb to the rakish Kevin like Caleb swooning for Ezio? The steamy debut novel adds an overlay of confused identity to what is essentially a fantasia, with a Cinderella makeover swirling Mason into the limelight and the affections of a previously unattainable hunk; it’s sprightly but not too deep. Mason himself is not a compelling protagonist and his relationship with Eric feels dull and bickery. Kevin, an Adonis with intriguing hidden wounds, is the more captivating and actually less narcissistic figure, and there’s a splendid supporting cast of colorful, well-drawn secondary characters. The play-within-the novel delivers an absurd plot and bad dialogue (“My liege, I have been sent from the fronts of battle, to deliver unto you, this message”), but the book offers absorbing, lively procedures, from line-reading and note-dispensing to costume-fitting and investor-schmoozing. Pearson is a fluent writer, and though his lead can’t really carry the production, the show around him grabs the reader’s attention.

A lightweight, entertaining Broadway yarn.

Pub Date: May 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59021-518-0

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Lethe Press

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2016

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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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