GONE SOUTH

If, in Boy's Life (1991), McCammon took a giant step away from horror (Mine, 1990, etc.) and toward his own potent brand of southern gothic, here he takes a daring leap—with a captivating but calculatedly eccentric fable of an outlaw Vietnam vet who learns about the power of redemption. The vet is Dan Lambert, 41, a hard-luck Louisiana carpenter slowly dying from cancer (Agent Orange). Dan's story starts out in swift if familiar thriller-fashion as, through a series of tragic overreactions, he shoots dead the bank officer who's ordered his truck repossessed, and flees. In fact, this opening strongly echoes that of David Morrell's First Blood, which introduced fellow-vet Rambo—but where Rambo was chased by a stalwart sheriff, Dan is soon hounded by two markedly bizarre characters: Flint Murtaugh, a bounty hunter whose secret weapon is the Derringer held by his Siamese-twin brother, Clint, whose arm and head extend from Flint's torso; and Flint's new sidekick, Pelvis Eisley, a drop-dead Elvis (circa 1977) impersonator. And after he makes final contact with his estranged wife and son, Dan finds himself traveling with yet another misfit, Arden—whose beautiful face is marred by a hideous port-wine stain and who's searching for the ``Bright Girl,'' a legendary faith healer whose touch will erase her scar. Improbable events pile up as hunters and hunted race into the deep bayou, where Flint/Clint and Pelvis run afoul of drug dealers and where Dan, touched by his hunters' flawed humanity, joins forces with a Cajun swamp rat to fight to save their lives—and then accompanies Arden to her transfiguring meeting with Bright Girl. No subtlety but lots of surprises, not the least of which is McCammon's ability to humanize deeply even the most absurd of characters. With its careening plot, jackhammer suspense, and very Dean Koontz-like upbeat moral gloss, then—a real crowd-pleaser.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-671-74306-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1992

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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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