ESCAPE FROM FILM SCHOOL

The chairman of UCLA’s film- and television-writing program debuts with (what else?) the story of a hapless film student who stumbles into fortune and, eventually, modest fame. Queens-born Stuart Thomas is fleeing the Vietnam-era draft when he bursts into the University of Southern California’s Department of Cinema in August of 1966. He’s just looking for a place to hide, but he winds up with a student deferment and work on a student-made porn film. The director is gorgeous Veronica Baldwin, who cheats Stuart out of a writing credit on their surprise exploitation hit, Brutal Bad-ass Angels, then marries him. Years pass in a whirl of canned background bytes (—and that was in Gerald Ford dollars—; “by this time my Kaypro had been left at the curb and I worked on an IBM that had something called a hard drive—) and various trendy therapies whose proponents always pause, on the tantalizing verge of providing Stuart with life-altering wisdom, to say, “That’s all the time we have for today.” Another tedious running joke involves the relatively law-abiding Stuart perennially getting accosted by cops who read him his Miranda rights. Presumably the author intended the plot to be a tissue of absurdities and wanted to create characters as nutrient-deprived as L.A.’s soil—it’s a satire, after all. But a few mildly amusing episodes involving real-life movie names (Mike Ovitz, Mike Medavoy, John Milius) don—t make up for the fact that the tale of Stuart’s decline into well-paid scriptwriting anonymity while Veronica’s directing career flourishes simply doesn—t engage our interest, let alone our hearts. Walter certainly knows a lot about Hollywood—there are some very obscure in-jokes and references—but he doesn—t put it to fruitful fictional use. And starting off with a variation on Sunset Boulevard’s famously macabre opening voice-over is an invitation to damning comparisons. Not especially funny, and not much fun.

Pub Date: July 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-312-20537-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1999

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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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