Playwright and actor Shepard's (Motel Chronicles, 1983, etc.) first fiction explores many of the same themes as his best plays: the relations of fathers and sons, the transition to manhood, the lure of the open road, the endless skies out west, loneliness, and the silences that punctuate everyday life. In 40 short tales, Shepard relies on a sun-puckered, angular style that suits his western landscapes. His narrators dream of epic movie scenes but are trapped in the brittle world of troubled adults. In ``A Man's Man,'' for example, a boy spends a day bucking hay with a tough-guy friend of his father's who ends their labors with an unexpected fondle. The 1950s friends of the boy's parents whirl about in a cycle of liquor, lust, jealousy, and violent outbursts. In pieces that are sometimes impressionistic, and occasionally clearly autobiographical, Shepard recalls meeting Duke Ellington while working as a busboy, crazy speed-freak nights spent as a barge guard on New York's East River, and messing up a job running a backhoe while thinking of a woman. Many stories feature men gone sour over women who've just gone; in these tales, the women grow tired of their lovers' lies, and drinking, and loss of control. Terse dialogues (a defense of cruising the Badlands by car, a justification for the fear of flying) suggest the weight of all the things these characters cannot say. A dozen of the pieces are presented as the dead-on notes of an actor making a film in Mexico (the film sounds remarkably like Voyager, a 1990 feature in which Shepard starred). The actor describes driving to the location in Mexico, his conflicted feelings about the relative luxury in which the film crew lives, getting drunk with a stuntman, and watching NFL football in a local bar. These pieces perfectly capture the real anarchy and tedium of moviemaking. Even if he weren't a major playwright, Shepard would merit attention for this powerful prose fiction.

Pub Date: May 9, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41564-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1996

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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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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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