THE ENCHANTMENT OF LILY DAHL

Hustvedt's second outing abandons the cerebral regions of postmodernism (The Blindfold, 1992) and turns to the familiar melodramas of small-town gothic. Nineteen-year-old Lilly Dahl lives in Webster, Minnesota, rooms over the main-street cafe where she works as waitress, and has ambitions of becoming an actress—she's learning, in fact, the role of Hermia for a local production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The dream-world of Shakespeare's play and the events here befalling the hapless Lilly are often dovetailed neatly enough by Hustvedt, but at the same time her heroine's credibility-stretching tale of perversion, mystery, and obsession groans with the familiar. The seeming start of things was the long-ago killing of a woman named Helen Bodler, whose farmer husband is said by some to have buried her alive. Waitress Lilly serves breakfast daily to Helen's now-grown sons, the demented and unwashed bachelor farmers Frank and Dick, and to another distant relative of the dead Helen's, the eccentric loner Martin Petersen, ex-childhood playmate of Lilly herself. When eerie things start happening, then, there is no dearth of suspects—excluding neither Mabel Wasley, Lilly's 78- year-old neighbor who types all night and has secrets aplenty up her sleeve, nor Ed Shapiro, the handsome artist and out-of-towner who knows all about opera, works on his mysterious canvases all night—and steals Lilly's susceptible heart. When new murders and spectral sightings (of Lilly herself, no less) are reported, our feisty heroine turns fearless gumshoe (``She froze and held her breath. . . . But Lily knew that she was going to lurch headlong into whatever was waiting for her''), managing finally not only to expose all but to play a cool hand when Ed Shapiro at last offers to waft her away to New York City. Mystery, murder, and provincial caricatures, all in a readable but curiously dusty mix from a writer whose aims seemed higher the first time around. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-8050-4920-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1996

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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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