A melancholy reflection on one man’s life, highlighted by complex characterization.

AN UNEXAMINED LIFE

In Long’s debut novel, a terminally ill man tries to reconcile with his past.

New Yorker Neal Landrum has a routine checkup that reveals a serious medical condition, and he’s told that he only has a few months left to live. Stunned, he decides to dedicate his remaining days to tracking down an old college girlfriend, Joan Elroy. After finding someone with her name in New Mexico, Neal lies to his wife, buys a car, and hits the road. As he makes his way southwest, his thoughts turn to his past, starting with the claustrophobic environment in which he grew up. He was raised by devoutly religious parents who kept him and his brother, Joe, isolated from the rest of their town, and he only managed to escape after meeting Joan, the daughter of a new high school teacher. He became close with her and her father, eventually dating her and attending the same college as she did. But when her father had a stroke, Joan left school to care for him. Neal cruelly turned his back on her and ended up marrying a rich, popular young woman named Susan Murphy and entering her family’s business. When present-day Neal eventually arrives in New Mexico, he’s disappointed that the woman he finds isn’t his old lover, but a young artist. He quickly realizes, however, that there’s more to her than meets the eye. There are some plot points that are sure to raise readers’ eyebrows; in particular, a “deal” struck between two key characters is so unbelievable that it borders on silly. On the whole, however, this novel takes a bold look at the life of a dying man. Neal is far from perfect, and the novel is unflinching in its commitment to showing him as a three-dimensional human being, with all of his flaws on full display. Even though he’s dying, the plot never handles him with kid gloves, and his past is revealed to be far more complicated than his memories suggest. The story also offers a cast of supporting characters with unexpected depth.

A melancholy reflection on one man’s life, highlighted by complex characterization.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9991810-2-7

Page Count: 246

Publisher: Yellow City Publishing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2018

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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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