Nobody writing today surpasses the precocious Waters’s virtuosic handling of narrative complexity and thickly textured...

FINGERSMITH

Imagine a university-educated lesbian Charles Dickens with a similarly keen eye for mendacity and melodrama, and you’ll have some idea of the pleasures lurking in Waters’s impudent revisionist historicals: Tipping the Velvet (1999), Affinity (2000), and now this richly woven tale of duplicity, passion, and lots of other good stuff.

It begins as the narrative of 17-year-old Susan Trinder, an orphan resident of the criminal domicile run by Hogarthian Grace Sucksby, a Fagin-like “farmer” of discarded infants and den-mother to an extended family of “fingersmiths” (i.e., pickpockets) and assorted confidence-persons. One of the latter, Richard Rivers (a.k.a. “Gentleman”), engages Susan in an elaborate plot to fleece wealthy old Mr. Lilly, a connoisseur of rare books—as lady’s maid “Susan Smith” to Lilly’s niece and ward Maude, a “simple, natural” innocent who will be married off to “Mr. Rivers,” then disposed of in a madhouse, while the conspirators share her wealth. Maidservant and mistress grow unexpectedly close, until Gentleman’s real plan—a surprise no reader will see coming—leads to a retelling of events we’ve just witnessed, from a second viewpoint—which reveals the truth about Mr. Lilly’s bibliomania, and discloses to a second heroine that “Your life was not the life that you were meant to live.” (Misdirections and reversals are essential components of Waters’s brilliant plot, which must not be given away.) Further intrigues, escapes, and revelations climax when Susan (who has resumed her place as narrator) returns from her bizarre ordeal to Mrs. Sucksby’s welcoming den of iniquity, and a final twist of the knife precipitates another crime and its punishment, astonishing discoveries about both Maude and Susan (among others), and a muted reconciliation scene that ingeniously reshapes the conclusion of Dickens’s Great Expectations.

Nobody writing today surpasses the precocious Waters’s virtuosic handling of narrative complexity and thickly textured period detail. This is a marvelous novel.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2002

ISBN: 1-57322-203-8

Page Count: 493

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

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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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