BIRDY

Some books—some of the best—defy description. But we'll try. On one level, this is a novel about a boy named Birdy, who with his friend Al Ambrogio grows up in a Philadelphia suburb before World War II, and is fascinated by pigeons. High school deflects Al's attention toward girls, but Birdy moves from pigeons to canaries, eventually raising an entire aviary. Level number two: Birdy's fascination with canaries—their habits, songs, and, above all, their flight—completely captures his imagination: "I know I want to fly at least as much as any canary. I don't have to fly anything as well as a canary; gliding down from high places with arm control might be enough." Level number three: this is a book about a boy who becomes a bird in every way but physically. To fly like, act like, be like a bird becomes less and less acceptable to Birdy. A recurrent dream that conquers even his waking hours allows him into birdness itself, a total liberation—falling in love with Perta, a female; raising young; even, in fantasy, being almost killed by a cat. Wharton sets this all up in a poignant frame: pal Al visits Birdy in an Army mental hospital just after the war, and in his locked room Birdy hops around, hauling up in his memory the entire change from boy to bird into man. Sounds improbable, we grant you—even a little off the wall. But this is an amazing work of real art. Birdy's imagination and empathy soar, looking for freedom; in Birdy's voice, his desire is as real to us as our own; we begin to strain toward birdness ourselves. This isn't parable or allegory, either—no Jonathan Livingston Seagull stuff. There's a literalism here, an eccentricity, so held-fast to itself that it utterly succeeds. Birdy is a boy who simply is trying to get closer to an ineffable grace that humans don't have, trying as hard and completely as he can. If you let this one go by, you will have missed some of the year's most original and remarkable fiction. An extraordinary book.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 1978

ISBN: 0679734120

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1978

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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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