Haunting images and poetic prose flood this noteworthy collection.

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The Inconvenience of the Wings

Zobal’s debut collection of well-crafted short stories leaves a lasting impression.

Although grounded in the real world, Zobal’s stories read like fairy tales and urban legends. In the opening story, “Camp of Low Angels,” a group of boys flip their counselors’ controlled world upside down—hilarity and heartbreak ensue. A woman dies during a snowed-in vacation in “The Bellwether,” and her companions must dig an icy channel to the barn to make a place for her corpse. In “Outlaw,” an attempted Old West–style robbery of a gas station goes absurdly wrong. And in “And We Saw Light,” a bare-foot woman walks singing down a road, carrying a dripping gunnysack, its contents unrevealed. These images evoke weighty themes: savagery, loss, memory, and death. Death lurks in every story: “The water spoke of what it was to be dead. It was flat, still, and empty; yet on its cold surface wore our lifeless image.” The stories meditate on how people confront the inevitability of death, how they talk about it or avoid talking about it, how they remember the dead and, in remembering, keep them alive. One character says, “Let me admit that I have never believed that the dead are entirely gone.” Zobal draws attention to language, sometimes via his characters, who ponder the meanings and shapes of words. In the title story, a ghost writes words for the living in spilled salt on the table: “Woodshed, read the words in salt, birdcall, bone.” Zobal also experiments with structure. The tales spiral in on themselves or proceed in unconnected bursts, like the memories they evoke. Each story links to the one that came before it, sometimes by only a word or image, sometimes by a larger theme or emotion. The final story, “The Hospital,” completes the chain, delivering an emotional change-up of both grief and hope for a new life.

Haunting images and poetic prose flood this noteworthy collection.

Pub Date: June 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1942515012

Page Count: 178

Publisher: Fomite

Review Posted Online: May 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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