DARKER DAYS THAN USUAL

Young British writer Dunn debuts with a collection of three stories and a novella exploring—with insight and empathy—the darker sides of suburbia. Taking as her setting the farther suburbs of London, which are close enough to that city for a day of shopping but far enough away to be surrounded by fields, Dunn tells stories of the lower middle class—a class edging up into the middle but still constrained by the need to measure out the smallest pleasures with care. A week's holiday spent in a Spanish pension is saved for all year; children's clothes are bought at rummage sales; and the possession of a car is luxury. The narrator of the title novella, a widowed secretary at a small local elementary school, becomes increasingly concerned with the well-being of her assistant Laura, whose two children are at the school. Laura lives in public housing, is withdrawn, and, unlike her flashy sister Cassie, seems to have been neglected by her mother. But as the narrator's suspicions of the childhood abuse of Laura increase, she learns that she herself has failed not only to understand what really happened, but has never appreciated the stifling psychological pressure that her late husband had exerted on her own daughter, Helen. The three stories describe the return home of a much disliked elder stepsister, nicknamed the ``Snow Queen,'' fleeing an unhappy marriage; a daughter attending her mother's 50th birthday party recalling her mother's unhappiness and depression while raising her and her siblings; and a pregnant middle-aged woman being driven to suicide by her elder daughter's powerful malevolence. First fiction from one of those rare contemporary writers who, by giving her characters' lives a certain integrity, makes their plight credible and not simply a lurid venture into suburban gothic. Promising.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1993

ISBN: 1-85242-172-X

Page Count: 125

Publisher: Serpent’s Tail

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1992

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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