THE ROOM-MATING SEASON

Another women-through-the-decades drama from Jaffe (The Road Taken, 2000, etc.), this time based on a premise from a newspaper article she wrote in 1963.

The original Herald-Tribune story chronicled the travails of single “girls” forced to share tiny, expensive Manhattan apartments while they held down low-paying jobs and hunted for husbands. The level of Jaffe’s inventiveness in her fictional elaboration can be judged by the fact that she recycles many of the article’s details. Leigh Owen, a 23-year-old secretary at “the powerful Star Management talent agency,” can afford the outrageous $200 monthly rent on an Upper East Side one-bedroom apartment only if she gets three roommates. She recruits fellow Pembroke grad Cady Fineman, sexy stewardess Vanessa Preet, and dull doctor’s receptionist Susan Brown. Jaffe sketches her characters with broad strokes: Leigh is smart, self-possessed, ambitious; much-older Star partner David Graham encourages her to become an agent. Emotionally needy Cady teaches high-school English, stagnates in a long-term affair with a student’s father, Paul, and is always being bailed out of financial trouble by her mother. Vanessa is casually promiscuous. Susan is a dreary drag, and the other three don’t like her, though they’re guilt-ridden when it seems their hostility has driven her to suicide. Shortly thereafter, the remaining roommates go their separate ways. Pregnant Vanessa marries a lawyer she doesn’t love and relocates in California. Cady moves into a fancy apartment paid for by Paul, whom everyone but Cady realizes will never leave his wife. Leigh marries David, has perfect children and a perfect life. All stay in touch and also remain friends with Charlie Rackley, a platonic pal from their roommate days who maintains his crush on Vanessa and eventually clears up the mystery of Susan’s death. It’s very stock stuff, but with the exception of some embarrassing scene-setting paragraphs (“The decade that was to be known as the ‘Me Decade’ had begun and people wanted it all”), Jaffe handles it adequately.

For undemanding readers.

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-525-94713-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2003

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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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