NOTHING BUT BLUE SKIES

Ex-hippie and ex-druggie Montana businessman and cattle- rancher Frank Copenhaver is winding down: ``the man who had always been just ahead of events was now slightly behind them.'' He's going broke, he's lost his wife, and his daughter is keeping company with a Montana-Firster fascist-type who is Frank's own age or thereabouts. Frank—as the good McGuane character he is—is given to outsized and far-fetched screw-ups and high-jinks, but error isn't saving him now. Nothing is. This errant yet debonair loser—McGuane's perpetual protagonist—gains something with age, though—as does McGuane. A lovely stylist always, McGuane has been handicapped by having to jab at a hip counterculture as silly as his own dandy-ish characters were. But now, with the passing of that counterculture, with only its relics like Frank Copenhaver left, it—like Frank- -takes on poignancy, and McGuane is free to become a kind of American Kingsley Amis. Unloved and unwanted by the Zeitgeist (which prefers the Perot-like doings of the Montana-Firster), Frank is an unchained eye in a novel that shares the tang of liberation and is all over the map as he thinks, for example, now about McDonald's (``Americans had overtaken their product line, if he was any judge, waiting for McThis and McThat. If there were only a few departures or insights—McShit on the toilets, anything—it would be so much easier to take one's seat in this American meeting place and not feel such despair that the world was going on without you''), now about the disappeared drug-culture (``And what fun those darn drugs were. Marvelous worlds aslant, a personal speed wobble in the middle of a civilization equally out of control. And it was wonderful, however short, to have such didactic views on everything, everyone coming down from the mountain with the tablets of stone. Hard to say what it all came to now. Skulls in the desert''). Funny, sad, deliciously written (albeit with dumb plot curlicues): McGuane's most amiable novel, perhaps his best.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 1992

ISBN: 0-395-54540-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1992

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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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