A WALK THROUGH FIRE

A Deep South town erupts during the Civil Rights period in this ambitious third novel (after Cobb's Hermit King, etc.—not reviewed). Hammond is as segregated as any other Alabama town in 1961, but Eldon Long, pastor of its biggest black church and a follower of Dr. King, plans to change all that. His chief antagonists are the Mayor—banker Mac McClellon, anxious to preserve Hammond's image of racial calm—and Rooster Wembley, one-legged barber and Klan leader. Man-in-the-middle is O.B. Brewster, a local hero because he was once a professional ballplayer. O.B. has a farm- implement dealership with a largely black clientele; he is the only white man Eldon trusts, and the pastor is prodding him to run against Mac. Two white SNCC volunteers arrive; a lunch-counter sit- in is tense but peaceful. Then a boycott of white-owned businesses begins, and O.B. hurts badly; the turning point comes when he returns to his country roots, grasps the meaning of love-thy- neighbor, and decides to run for mayor. So far, so good; Cobb's people may be players in a racial drama first, individuals second, but the battle-lines are cleanly drawn and O.B.'s conversion is powerful and moving. Then, however, Cobb overloads his story with a torrid love-triangle involving Eldon, his wife Cora, and O.B., and with a wildfire romance between O.B.'s daughter Ellen and SNCC volunteer Paul, which triggers a near-fatal back-alley abortion for Ellen and the abduction of Paul and his fellow-activist by the Klan. Paul escapes, and all credibility is shattered when he hides in O.B.'s house for a month undetected. The sure touch Cobb showed earlier disappears completely in a last-minute flurry of arrests, breakdowns, and deaths. When Cobb is good (his taut confrontations, his quieter moments showing old people sitting around being old), he is very, very good; when he is bad, his writing dissolves into clichÇs. A maddeningly uneven work.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 1992

ISBN: 0-688-11366-4

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

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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