A minor work in the overall Nabokov canon, but an intriguing riff on Elizabethan drama nonetheless.

THE TRAGEDY OF MISTER MORN

An early, recently unearthed play by the 20th-century master, heavily critical of politics and hinting at the brilliance to come.

Nabokov (1899-1977) was living in Prague in 1923 when he wrote this play, rediscovered in 1997 and published in book form in Russia in 2008. But the communist revolution in his homeland is its key inspiration. Set in an unnamed country, the story tracks a tug of war for power: Tremens is the leader of a failed coup who wants the land reduced to ashes, and Mister Morn is the gentle but successful poet/leader who obscures his status as king. Shakespeare is Nabokov’s model in a variety of ways. Most obviously, the play was written in iambic pentameter (attentively but not rigorously preserved by the translators). And its references to Othello, along with its themes of madness, leadership, family lines and how women support powerful men, show Nabokov took plenty of cues from the Bard of Avon. Admirers of LolitaPale Fire and Pnin have to work hard to detect glimpses of Nabokov’s best-known work here, but it’s not impossible: In his introduction, co-translator and Nabokov scholar Karshan explores how the play’s references to masks and sex would re-emerge in Nabokov’s mature novels. The dynamism of the play’s romantic relationships makes it a firmly modernist work. Through Midia, the wife of an imprisoned revolutionary who’s in love with Morn, he explores infidelity without high moral judgment. And in Ella, Tremens’ daughter, he’s imagined a vibrant, nervy woman quick to question her father’s “equivocating little words.” Morn’s vagueness dulls the play’s climax somewhat, but he’s also the story’s chief asset: “All my power lay in my mysteriousness,” he proclaims in a final soliloquy, an apt line for a tale about the mysteriousness of power.

A minor work in the overall Nabokov canon, but an intriguing riff on Elizabethan drama nonetheless.

Pub Date: March 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-307-96081-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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