Despite anachronistic language, this inventive retelling of Hamlet resonates through clear plotting and strong...

THE LORD CHAMBERLAIN'S DAUGHTER

Ophelia offers the true story behind what caused things to turn rotten in the state of Denmark in this postmodern take on Hamlet.

Fritsch’s (Cordelia Lionheart, 2018, etc.) work opens with an event labeled The Visit, which turns out to be King Fortinbras’ meeting with Ophelia, who had long been believed to be dead, at her cottage. Over the course of their conversation, which moves back and forth through time to follow the primary characters of Shakespeare’s play—Hamlet, Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, Polonius, Horatio, and Ophelia herself, the eponymous daughter—the duplicitous nature of court life under the senior Hamlet and then Claudius is laid out. While Denmark starts a calamitous war with Norway, which is how Fortinbras enters the story, Ophelia and Horatio take note of the castle’s intrigues, discovering many secrets along the way and putting their free time to good use. It isn’t necessary to be familiar with Hamlet to enjoy Fritsch’s tale, but readers who know the Bard’s work will have a greater appreciation for the changes. Rather than a pitiable character driven mad by unrealized longing, this Ophelia is a strong, intelligent force who moves to improve her fate, as befitting the title character of the narrative. Purists may view these characterizations with distaste—no royal except for Fortinbras is portrayed in any way close to positively, for example, although Gertrude is given more agency here than in the play—but Fritsch deploys his changes with a sure hand, setting their behavior in a context that makes sense for the time. The narrative’s structure precludes suspense, but the story unfolds in a clear, straightforward fashion, with a solid grasp of where all the plot pieces are at any time. Much of the dialogue is rendered in an anachronistic fashion, with profanity that reads more 21st century than the period when the original play was written, which will occasionally jar readers. But the language gives the characters an immediacy and relatability that more classical portrayals sometimes lack and largely fits into the author’s feminist revamping.

Despite anachronistic language, this inventive retelling of Hamlet resonates through clear plotting and strong characterization.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9978829-7-1

Page Count: 156

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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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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