This work remains a striking world unto itself; a highly entertaining and thought-provoking read.

FUNHOUSE

An author rolls several compact books into one.

Vaughan (Rift, 2015, etc.) divides his work into four sections: a set of flash fiction titled “Flashes/Balloon Darts”; a series of shorts with portraits evoking Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies called “Another Brick In the Wall/Hall of Mirrors”; experimental poetry inspired by female musicians labeled “Divas/Tunnel of Love”; and a segment of brief fiction named “Shorts/Ferris Wheel.” What these parts mostly have in common is Vaughan’s sense of character, the ability to reveal just enough about his creations to make them seem fully rounded, sometimes in just a few sentences. “Our First Date” is eight sentences spaced out on eight lines, but there’s so much to unpack. The twist comes in line four, when the narrator’s despair boils over because he can never see his children again. And by line eight, that emotion has been tamped down to polite agreement. No reason is given for the separation, whether it’s a legal matter or the children have died. The piece shows a remarkable range of emotions in what takes just seconds to read. The “Another Brick” series is charming, much in the vein of its muse. Vaughan is incredibly efficient at worldbuilding, and by the end of the section, it feels as though readers have gotten to know a community of kids, one for each letter of the alphabet. The “Divas” poems are evocative, each one starting out with a name, a birth year, and a set of lyrics and then delivering what feels like the author’s immediate reaction to the music. Sometimes words from the lyrics echo in poems, and repeated lines about rubbing off dead skin and being told not to hug emerge as readers work their ways through. Vaughan keeps readers guessing from section to section and piece to piece. He’ll follow the story of a relationship from courtship to engagement with a brief horror tale and, a few pages later, a one-paragraph singles ad.

This work remains a striking world unto itself; a highly entertaining and thought-provoking read.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9983090-1-9

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Unknown Press

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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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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