A powerful, moving allegory that reflects how post–9/11 missteps scarred the American soul.

THE PEOPLE OF THE BROKEN NECK

In his debut novel, Zobal (The Inconvenience of the Wings, 2015) casts an empathetic eye on the unraveling of a good man, soul-damaged by war, who attempts to reclaim his home and family.

Dominick Clarke Sawyer was a U.S. Army Ranger who saw combat action in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan while his wife, Sarah, 15-year-old son, Clarke, and preteen daughter, Kingsley, remained at home in Pennsylvania. But there were ever increasing stress, uncertainties, and, later, vicious arguments when he returned home between deployments. On his last furlough, Dom awakes to find Sarah gone. He tells his children their mother will be away for a while, but soon child welfare services gets involved. The deputy sheriff is sent to visit Dom, and then he too disappears. That brings in the FBI, who only find Dom and his children gone. In strobe-light-flash chapters, Zobal follows the physically imposing, stoic, yet deeply emotional Dom as he shepherds his brood from Pennsylvania to Maine (a beautifully rendered seashore idyll) to Illinois (where an emotionally damaged girl joins them, adding a new perspective), and finally to Washington state, where Dom finds that one more pillar on which he’s built his life has collapsed. Zobal’s narrative is a powerful dissection of the damage war inflicts on soldiers and families alike. Dom is a flawed hero, but he’s portrayed with cleareyed empathy. Clarke is Dom unformed, worried, protective of his sister; Kingsley embodies fearfulness, tears, and pain yet she keeps her heart open to love. The novel is made far better by having FBI agent Charlie Basin as a second protagonist. Charlie has struggled with his inability to fully relate to his depressed college-age daughter, a struggle he sometimes sees reflected in Dom's ongoing tragedy. Zobal reveals himself to be a writer of distinctive power, especially with immersions into Dom’s fugue states and often impressionistic descriptions—"a pale fog began to gather against the ground and catch at the edges of things."

A powerful, moving allegory that reflects how post–9/11 missteps scarred the American soul.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-60953-135-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Unbridled Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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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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