Readers aren’t likely to buy it. Our suggestion: Skim this one if you must, then pop some corn and watch the film version of...

CRAZY

Nostalgia, sentimentality and irreverent comedy redeem a paper-thin plot in this latest from the veteran author of The Exorcist and later fiction (Dimiter, 2010, etc.).

It’s a monologue performed (as if in a standup routine) by a retired octogenarian Hollywood screenwriter, Peruvian-American Joey El Bueno. While politely deflecting his Bellevue Hospital Nurse Bloor’s request for his evaluation of her screenplay idea (about Nazi scientists and Hitler’s preserved brain), Joey reminisces about his boyhood in New York City circa 1941, as a reluctant Catholic middle-school student, a devourer of pulp fiction and virtually every movie ever made and the accidental friend of a beautiful, eccentric older girl named Jane Bent, who attaches herself to him, becomes his self-appointed mentor and reappears mysteriously as herself and in other guises throughout Joey’s youth. Though we are made privy to his adventures with Jane, none of Joey’s schoolmates or buddies will even acknowledge her existence. The resulting mystery possesses and enriches Joey’s imagination, as he grows regretfully away from his almost saintly “Pop,” a long-widowed pushcart vendor, and into something quite like adulthood. Major problems: Jane disappears from the novel for many pages at a time; Joey/Blatty can’t seem to distinguish a good gag from a groaner; and the eventually revealed identity of Joey’s mystery girl/woman is a clumsy letdown that few readers will fail to see coming. Nevertheless, there are charmingly funny evocations of the 1939 New York World’s Fair and a revelatory day spent at Coney Island’s Luna Park. One appreciates the cameo appearance made by a Boy Scout troop leader who moonlights as a numbers runner—not to mention the schoolteacher nun who assigns an essay on the topic “Why St. Francis of Assisi Talked to Birds But Not Fish.” But Blatty stacks the deck with forced emphases on the figure of Jane (“There was this aura about her, something spiritual; ethereal, really.”).

Readers aren’t likely to buy it. Our suggestion: Skim this one if you must, then pop some corn and watch the film version of The Exorcist again.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-7653-2649-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Forge

Review Posted Online: Aug. 23, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

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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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