A compelling look at guilt and absolution and the cost of each to wounded men.

SIGNED CONFESSIONS

Hidden guilt, festering sins and the need to bring old wounds into the cleansing sunlight drive the protagonists in Walker’s collection of stories that explores ideas of responsibility and forgiveness with a critical but compassionate eye.

In this universe, men face aspects of themselves of which they were once proud, but those aspects have now cost them a great deal. A tough former assistant district attorney mourns his son’s suicide and looks into his past to find an incident with another boy that helped form a hardness in himself; a community college English instructor becomes ashamed of his proclivity for insulting others and seeks atonement through an unusual form of bingo; a retired naval officer, reeling from the death of his wife, tries to reconnect with his daughter while dealing with his fear of being alone. Circumstances force each of these men—which all of the protagonists are—to confront themselves, and in Walker’s cleareyed, unsentimental prose, they emerge from their experiences changed, though not always for the better. The thematic links are obvious almost to the point of being simplistic, but through his precise construction and observant point of view, Walker saves his stories from tilting into patronization. Although his protagonists have specific ideas about themselves—and in the cases of Milton from “Making Amends” and Phil from “The Lap Dancer,” sometimes delusional ones—they each manage to open their eyes, albeit with significant help in some cases. They take steps to rectify their faults or at least acknowledge them. While Walker’s prose is never flashy, his careful grounding of details and patient efforts in constructing character and setting create a universe of flaws and possibilities, and his stories unfold with a cumulative, occasionally wrenching emotional effect.

A compelling look at guilt and absolution and the cost of each to wounded men.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2013

ISBN: 978-1937677367

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Fomite

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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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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