Earnest but disappointing.

AMERICAN WOMAN

An ambitious version of the Patty Hearst story: the result is intellectually provocative and vividly imagined but weighed down by its intentions.

Despite some fine writing, Choi’s second with a Japanese-American protagonist (the award-winning Foreign Student, 1998) seems as much like a seminar—on class, race, and power—as it does a novel. And although protagonist Jenny Shimada shares her thoughts about her life, her past, and her present experiences, she remains as abstract as the ideas she’s grappling with. At the start, 25-year-old Jenny, who, with lover William (now in prison), had bombed federal buildings in protest against the Vietnam War, is hiding out in New York State, working under an alias as she restores an old house. She’s tracked down by Frazer, a former activist, who asks her to take care of Juan, Yvonne, and Pauline, who not only robbed a bank but escaped a fire in California that killed many of their co-conspirators. Frazer has rented a remote farmhouse and wants the group to write a book that will tell their story, especially Pauline’s, in order to make money both for him and for their cause. As Jenny recalls her alienation from her Japanese-American father, who deplores her activism (though it’s his wartime internment that made him anti-American), she tries to keep the trio focused. But the others prefer to exercise, shoot guns, and compose tapes exhorting revolution—all a worry to Jenny, who is against indiscriminate violence. She observes that Pauline, the heiress, is as dedicated as the other two, and, after a robbery goes fatally awry, the group separates. Jenny and Pauline flee New York and start driving west. On the run, Jenny tries to understand Pauline as she recalls, not persuasively, her privileged birth and her reasons for cooperating with the revolutionaries. But the police are on their track, and betrayal is in the air. Jenny must think hard about her own moral choices.

Earnest but disappointing.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-054221-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2003

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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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