There’s still more to each story after the author is finished with her characters, and that’s what makes this collection so...

Nine Facts That Can Change Your Life

STORIES

Wineberg (Second Language, 2005, etc.) follows up her novel with this emotional short story collection, consisting largely of works previously published in literary journals.  

The overriding theme running through each of these 15 stories is the tenacity and vulnerability of human connection. Most of the lead characters watch one life dissolve while another begins, as their memories of past relationships persist and affect their abilities to form new ones. This plays out in obvious moments, such as when a mother leaves her daughter at college for the first time (“Taking Leave”), and in more subtle situations, such as when a woman ignores a phone message from her ex-husband in order to concentrate on her new lover. In the title piece, a woman named Grace uses a self-help newsletter to try to console herself about her husband’s decision to seek a divorce; it tells her that “relatively small hassles often have a greater impact on us than major life events do.” That statement is true for some characters but not for others, and certainly not for Grace. The most harrowing story in the collection is “A Question of Place,” in which a mother finds herself rushing her 3-year-old daughter to the hospital with a pencil jabbed into her stomach while also trying to keep her 5- and 7-year-old kids in line. When she finally faces her husband, who was unexpectedly called in to work during the crisis, she realizes that she can’t be with him anymore. But Wineberg doesn’t write the end of the marriage—she ends with the realization as a turning point. The author doesn’t resolve anything too cleanly or neatly, which is something she does quite well throughout this collection. It gives the stories more weight and makes them feel more real, and it also makes the tension between old and new lives more acute.

There’s still more to each story after the author is finished with her characters, and that’s what makes this collection so satisfying.

Pub Date: May 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9971010-0-3

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Serving House Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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