A strange, primitive world that feels winningly real.

PROMISED VALLEY REBELLION

Fritsch’s debut novel is a Paleolithic adventure in the manner of Jean Auel.

The story is very likely as old as human civilization: a younger generation comes of age, feels frustrated by its elders and rebels, bringing conflict, debate and even violence. The author gives readers little in the way of precise historical details about Promised Valley and its people: there are farmers, city dwellers and a court ruled by a royal family and run by bureaucratic tellers, but the events could be taking place almost anywhere in the world, in virtually any of the first few million years that followed the opening of the Pleistocene. This narrative imprecision is part of the point: when Tall Oak, the king, forbids his heir Morning Sun to marry the daughter of a farmer—and when this decision brings division and violence to his kingdom—the story encourages the reader to ponder the universal elements of the tale (the character names encourage the same thing, although after 100 pages of Spring Rain, Green Field and Noon Breeze, readers may want a quick-reference character list, which the book sadly lacks). In other hands, this could result in some quite dreary reading, but Fritsch again and again saves his parable by granting his characters an easy, unforced humanity that is instantly inviting. His people may have generic names, but they sound like individuals, and that makes all the difference. At one point, Blue Sky talks about how lucky two of his friends are not to be royalty: “Anybody who isn’t the prince should be glad he isn’t,” he says. “Someday Morning Sun will have to order people killed. Valley Defender and Solemn Promise won’t. We won’t.” Moments like that are plentiful, and they make the story memorable.

A strange, primitive world that feels winningly real.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-578-05778-1

Page Count: 270

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2010

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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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