The scenes between the lovers are touching, if a tad predictable, but it’s Burke’s evocation of a murky world, where savior...

SAFELIGHT

A paramedic/photographer falls in love with an AIDS patient in a debut notable for its gritty realism.

They may not have the status of cops and firemen, but paramedics are on the front line, too. The job was worse in New York during the early 1990s, when crime was rampant and the city was being hit hard by the AIDS/crack epidemics. Frank Verbeckas, not long out of college, is a medic at Harlem hospital. He has become a connoisseur of the macabre, whipping out his camera to shoot the dead or damaged before loading them onto the ambulance with his partner Burnette, an obnoxious loudmouth. Frank may sound sick and creepy, but don’t rush to judgment: He is a mass of contradictions (and a fine photographer). His own trauma came when, after nursing his father through a long illness, he found him dead in the bathtub, a suicide. Spiraling into severe depression, Frank became a medic to cauterize the wound. Called to minister to another suicide, this one an AIDS patient, Frank meets Emily, who is also HIV-positive, and the two start dating (Frank uses condoms). Burke cross-cuts between their awkward courtship, which blossoms into a doomed love, and Frank’s on-the-job trials. The medics, led by the enigmatic Gil Hook, steal drugs from the hospital as a sideline, while guys with guns stand guard. Frank participates, but he’s too weird to be one of the boys. Burke’s pitch-perfect dialogue and feel for male camaraderie give these scenes an electric charge. Looming in the background is one of the surgeons, Frank’s abrasive brother Norman, furious about the thefts but unwilling to snitch. As Emily’s T-cell count drops precipitously, Frank quits; he has already seen one corpse too many.

The scenes between the lovers are touching, if a tad predictable, but it’s Burke’s evocation of a murky world, where savior and sinner come in one macho package, that makes this an exhilarating standout.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-4000-6201-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2004

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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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