TRYIN' TO SLEEP IN THE BED YOU MADE

A sprawling, melodramatic debut ``by and about best friends'' that has enough plot twists and surprises for a season of soap operas. And, for all its attention to intraracial conflict and sexual politics, it eventually boils down to one affirmative, ``You go, girl.'' As their fortunes rise and fall in the world, the two unlikely best friends from the St. Albans section of Queens manage to take on the best qualities of each other. Patricia Reid is the hard case: An unwanted child of an alcoholic mother, she early on learns to be tough and self-sufficient. Gayle Saunders, on the other hand, is the pampered only child of a hard-working couple who eventually take in Patricia. While Gayle dreams of fancy clothes, a big house, and marriage to Marcus, a talented athlete, Pat concentrates on her school work, which earns her scholarships, first to boarding school, then to Princeton. She also discovers the black aristocracy on Martha's Vineyard and reinvents herself with a suitable pedigree. Marcus refuses to marry Gayle before he succeeds in major league baseball (which he eventually does), so she takes up with Ramsey Hilliard, a successful landscape contractor. As Gayle and her baby enjoy suburban living, Pat makes her mark on Mad Ave as a crackerjack ad producer. When the women seem to have grown hopelessly apart, tragedy reunites them. After Ramsey's gambling addiction bankrupts the Hilliards, Gayle and her daughter suffer one indignity after another, finally landing in a homeless shelter where Pat volunteers. Their tear-filled reunion, with Marcus now a celebrity athlete married to Pat, finds them both chastened: Pat has learned to temper her ambition with love, and Gayle has become practical and thoughtful. Driven by believable characters and no little sentiment, the two authors never lay on the molasses too thick. Not as literary as Gloria Naylor, this sisterhood-is-powerful first novel seems a natural for Oprah's Book Club. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 27, 1997

ISBN: 0-312-15233-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1996

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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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