Could use more wonder but otherwise an impressively conceived story with true weight.

THE HYSTERY APP

A lesbian couple accidentally creates an extremely unique app in Davy’s (A Very Civil Wedding, 2014, etc.) darkly satirical sci-fi novel.

While attempting to effectively create their own Internet in order to privately upload and share their research with each other via a satellite they dub “Big Sister,” Dr. Brogan Miller, a biophysicist, and her wife, Dr. Honor Smith, a women’s history lecturer, stumble upon a strange phenomenon. Somehow, their computer cameras are allowing them to see into the past based on any date they input. Furthermore, only deceased women show up on the video feeds, often seeming to respond to men who can’t be seen or heard. If someone were to try to watch a moment involving a still-living woman, she wouldn’t show up. Eventually, they strike upon the idea to turn it into an app that Honor names “The Hystery App,” which they believe will forever change how history is understood now that the patriarchal filter is gone. Their best-laid plans go awry, however, when men start to use it for pornography, voyeuristically watching often long-dead women in sexual situations. Davy’s imaginative, incisive story is a prime example of how sci-fi as a genre can be used to explore complex societal issues. The focus isn’t on how this app ever managed to work—besides some briefly explored wormhole theory— because the effects are more important. The novel wisely begins by delving into the endless positive potential for its time-travel device and then shows the numerous ways it could be perverted, human (and specifically male) nature being what it is. Davy also imbues the main characters with full, three-dimensional life, making it a novel about these specific women, not just ideas. Unfortunately, the novel spends too much time mired in family drama that, while realistically crafted, feels too mundane for a concept with such intriguing possibilities. While many works of sci-fi focus on their concepts to the detriment of their humanity, this novel does nearly the opposite.

Could use more wonder but otherwise an impressively conceived story with true weight.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2015

ISBN: 978-0957408869

Page Count: 290

Publisher: Liberation Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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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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