A thoughtful religious novel that mostly overcomes its somewhat-bland main character.

BLESSED

Robinson (My Secrets Cry Aloud, 2012) tells the story of an unorthodox preacher’s effect on a small Southern town in this Christian novel.

The townspeople of Mercy, Kentucky, didn’t know what to make of Grayson Armstrong when the 28-year-old came to preach a trial sermon at New Hope Baptist Church. The search committee chairman’s impression was representative: “He saw the shoulder-length hair and the ill-fitting suit. Don’t look like any preacher I’ve ever seen, he thought. He looks like a little boy.” Twelve years later, Grayson’s unexpected death sends shock waves through Ignite Community Church, as New Hope Baptist became known under his leadership. The novel, as narrated by various members of Grayson’s congregation, explores the ways that the exceptional young preacher touched the lives of the people of Mercy—including the diner waitress who wasn’t a churchgoer when he moved to town; the Vietnam veteran whose PTSD causes people to avoid him; and even the congregants who disagreed with Grayson’s controversial views, such as that an American flag doesn’t belong in a house of worship. Grayson’s widow and children also speak their pieces, revealing the personal side of a man who was reviled by some and beloved by others. The portrait that emerges is not only that of a godly man, but also of the imperfect community of everyday Christians that he attempted to serve. Robinson’s prose is precise but malleable as she channels the voices of her many characters and reveals their fears and desires. “It didn’t help that living in Mercy was like living in a glass bowl,” reflects Tyler, Grayson’s gay teenage son, for example. “Everyone knew everyone else’s business, and of course they paid particular attention to ours.” Although Grayson’s Christ-like presentation limits his complexity, Robinson does an admirable job of exploring the varied personalities of other players as they grapple with their faith and other beliefs. Grayson is the name on every character’s lips, but he ultimately acts as a lens through which the reader can view each narrator. Overall, this novel asks many probing questions, using a light blend of mystery, tragedy, and reflection.

A thoughtful religious novel that mostly overcomes its somewhat-bland main character.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-945049-10-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Shadelandhouse Modern Press

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2019

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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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