BARREL FEVER

NPR storyteller Sedaris chronicles a society slightly removed from the mainstream and characters who don't quite fit in with the masses. Deadpan exaggeration gives this first collection a satirical edge. The narrator of ``Parade'' discusses his homosexual relationships with stars whose straightness has never been questioned (Bruce Springsteen, Mike Tyson, and Peter Jennings), using the same matter-of-fact tone to describe the torrid affair of Elizabeth Dole and Pat Buckley. In ``We Get Along,'' Dale lives with his mother, who is full of anger against her deceased, womanizing husband and every night spitefully calls a woman she suspects had an affair with him. Distancing himself from both parents, Dale tries not to rock the boat while keeping some secrets to himself. ``Glen's Homophobia Newsletter, Vol. 3, No. 2'' is a parody of the persecuted in which any minority group could be substituted to replace the whining homosexual who bemoans his suffering at the oppressive hands of society in a style so over- the-top as to be laughable. These and nine other stories are followed by four essays. ``Diary of a Smoker'' is also an account of persecution (by nonsmokers); ``Giantess'' relates Sedaris's experiences with a magazine of erotica about enormous women. Far exceeding them in wit is ``SantaLand Diaries,'' previously read on NPR's ``Morning Edition,'' which describes his seasonal stint as a Macy's elf. Four days of rigorous training on the eighth floor barely prepared him for the crowds, the Santas, and the unending barrage of questions. Throughout the collection, without slapping the reader in the face with a political diatribe, the author skewers our ridiculous fascination with other people's tedious everyday lives. Life may be banal here, but Sedaris's take on it is vastly entertaining. (Author tour)

Pub Date: June 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-316-77940-7

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1994

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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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