Vivid storytelling in a Faustian tale, with a few meanderings.


A boy growing up in New York City becomes riven between good and evil in this debut coming-of-age novel.

The story opens with the unnamed narrator as an infant, timid in nature and emotionally attached to his teddy bear. His father is quite the opposite. Recently released from prison and the son of an Italian immigrant prizefighter, he is tender toward his family but has a brutal temper when crossed by others. When the narrator is being bullied at school, a man in a red sweat suit arrives, douses the culprit in gasoline, and threatens to torch him. The narrator suspects that the “red stranger” is connected to his father, and his innocence begins to slowly recede. After developing a proclivity to play truant from high school, the narrator has a chance encounter with his teacher Delbar Pahlavi, who introduces him to the joys of classic literature. The narrator’s family moves to New Jersey, where he adapts to suburbia; finds a girl, Alex; and, in time, becomes an attorney. It is at this point in his life that the “red stranger” returns, offering the possibility of great wealth, to be accrued from fixing horse races. The lure of the dark side is devilishly tempting. Cea offers a contemporary take on the classic German Faust legend, in which a demon lures the dissatisfied protagonist into temptation. This is intelligent, weighty writing. When describing his grandfather, the narrator notes: “He wasn’t courageous, just fearless. His demeanor was of a quiet confidence. Some people may have mistaken him for complacent. That wasn’t it either. He was just satisfied with the way his life turned out, and completely happy.” The portrait is followed by a pleasingly serene account of the family making wine together. These tender observations are counterbalanced by searingly pitiless passages, as when the narrator’s father urinates on a corpse, commenting: “I told him I was going to piss on his grave. I’m just saving myself the trip.” Cea proves expert in celebrating and berating the cult of masculinity in equal measure. On occasion, the author shoehorns in a philosophical debate, such as a protracted conversation between a priest and a physicist regarding Creation. Although engaging, this is somewhat incongruous to the developing narrative. But this proves only a minor distraction from a thoroughly engrossing novel.

Vivid storytelling in a Faustian tale, with a few meanderings.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-692-57709-7

Page Count: 230

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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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A steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.


From the Briar U series

In this opener to Kennedy’s (Hot & Bothered, 2017, etc.) Briar U romance series, two likable students keep getting their signals crossed.

Twenty-one-year-old Summer Heyward-Di Laurentis is expelled from Brown University in the middle of her junior year because she was responsible for a fire at the Kappa Beta Nu sorority house. Fortunately, her father has connections, so she’s now enrolled in Briar University, a prestigious institution about an hour outside Boston. But as she’s about to move into Briar’s Kappa Beta Nu house, she’s asked to leave by the sisters, who don’t want her besmirching their reputation. Her older brother Dean, who’s a former Briar hockey star, comes to her rescue; his buddies, who are still on the hockey team, need a fourth roommate for their townhouse. Three good-looking hockey jocks and a very rich, gorgeous fashion major under the same roof—what could go wrong? Summer becomes quickly infatuated with one of her housemates: Dean’s best friend Colin “Fitzy” Fitzgerald. There’s a definite spark between them, and they exchange smoldering looks, but the tattooed Fitzy, who’s also a video game reviewer and designer, is an introvert who prefers no “drama” in his life. Summer, however, is a charming extrovert, although she has an inferiority complex about her flagging scholastic acumen. As the story goes on, the pair seem to misinterpret each other’s every move. Meanwhile, another roommate and potential suitor, Hunter Davenport, is waiting in the wings. Kennedy’s novel is full of sex, alcohol, and college-level profanity, but it never becomes formulaic. The author adroitly employs snappy dialogue, steady pacing, and humor, as in a scene at a runway fashion show featuring Briar jocks parading in Summer-designed swimwear. The book also manages to touch on some serious subjects, including learning disabilities and abusive behavior by faculty members. Summer and Fitzy’s repeated stumbles propel the plot through engaging twists and turns; the characters trade off narrating the story, which gives each of them a chance to reveal some substance.

A steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.    

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72482-199-7

Page Count: 372

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2019

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