A slyly subversive and nimble exploration of identity and love.

THE PROSTITUTES OF LAKE WIISHKOBAN

A young woman embarks on an odyssey of self-discovery when she takes a job at a library that offers a unique service.

Alexis Tove, a quiet, reserved woman in Monroe, North Dakota, lives with her parents and works at the local library. Although her family hopes that she will marry and start a family, she longs to escape the confines of her small town, and one evening, she decides to pack up, get behind the wheel of her car, and leave for good. After she arrives in the town of Lake Wiishkoban, Minnesota, she notices a sign offering an apartment for rent. On impulse, she rents it and settles into a new life on her own. After losing a series of dead-end jobs, including a position as a vacuum-cleaner salesperson, she becomes desperate for work. Then she notices a help-wanted ad for a librarian position. With her past library experience, the job sounds ideal—until she learns the Lake Wiishkoban library is also a brothel and that the librarians there double as sex workers. However, despite her initial hesitation, she decides to accept the position, and she soon discovers a world that she never knew existed. As Alexis gains confidence working with her clients, she begins exploring her own sexuality and her new friendship with co-worker Vanessa, which soon turns romantic. Alexis comes to believe that she may have finally found love and acceptance, until a crisis threatens to expose the library’s secret. Shannon’s (50 Critical Thinking Exercises for Humanities Classes 2, 2018, etc.) fiction debut is an entertaining, provocative bildungsroman that successfully turns an unconventional premise into a thoughtful exploration of freedom and identity. Alexis is a dynamic protagonist whose quest to find herself drives the narrative. When she’s introduced, she’s a shy and introspective bookworm who has a propensity for going along with things because she doesn’t want to disappoint anybody. For example, she was initially only planning to look at the apartment in Lake Wiishkoban, but she ends up renting it because the landlady was helpful to her; Alexis feels like she would “have that on my conscience” if she didn’t rent the place. Once she begins sex work, however, she’s forced to question her passivity. The author establishes this transition in a particularly powerful scene in which Alexis practices bondage techniques with Vanessa: “why bother fighting it?” Alexis’ discovery that she’s a lesbian unfolds at a thoughtful, methodical pace as her feelings for Vanessa go beyond mere friendship. Shannon’s supporting characters are also well-drawn—especially Vanessa, a librarian and aspiring fashion designer who feels conflicted about sex work, and Chet, who believes that he’s a bunny trapped in the body of a man. The sex scenes, while explicit, never seem gratuitous and are often about self-discovery. That said, there are some elements of the story that are slightly underdeveloped; for example, a woman named Greta Best first organizes the brothel, but her motivations remain somewhat mysterious.

A slyly subversive and nimble exploration of identity and love.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5202-5802-7

Page Count: 340

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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