Readers will wonder which choice was best for Irena, but Shriver masterfully confounds any attempt to arrive at a sure...

THE POST-BIRTHDAY WORLD

A layered and unflinching portrait of infidelity—with a narrative appropriately split in two.

In the opening chapter, Shriver (We Need to Talk About Kevin, 2003, etc.) introduces three people suffering mid-life crises in late-1990s London: Irena, a children’s book illustrator; her longtime romantic partner, Lawrence, a researcher at a political think tank; and Ramsey, a wealthy snooker pro who’s recently divorced Jude, Irena’s former professional partner. The four used to celebrate Ramsey’s birthday together, but Lawrence is traveling and Jude is out of the picture, leaving Irena and Ramsey to while away an evening together. A polite dinner soon drifts into heavy flirting, and from there the story breaks into two narratives with alternating chapters: In one, Irena pursues an affair with Ramsey and leaves Lawrence; in the other, she restrains herself and stays loyal. Each choice has its downside. Ramsey, despite his outwardly suave demeanor, proves to be a childish lout who’s prone to jealousy, drinks heavily and is tormented about his failure to win the national snooker championship; the sex is great (and crucial for keeping the peace), but his demands on Irena’s time and emotions threaten her professional and family relationships. Life with Lawrence is more stable, but she’s dogged by an urge to break away from humdrum domestic rhythms and increasingly suspicious of Lawrence’s behavior. Shriver pulls off a tremendous feat of characterization: Following Irena across 500-plus pages and two timelines offers remarkable insight into her work habits, her thought processes, the way she argues with friends and family, the small incidents of everyday life that make her feel either trapped or free. Better yet, the author is more interested in raising questions about love and fidelity than in pat moralizing.

Readers will wonder which choice was best for Irena, but Shriver masterfully confounds any attempt to arrive at a sure answer.

Pub Date: March 13, 2007

ISBN: 0-06-118784-4

Page Count: 528

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2006

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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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