A cut below this author’s superb earlier books, but very much worth reading.

THE NIGHT WATCH

Time runs backward, and memory tightens its grip on the variously involved characters of British author Waters’s unusual fourth novel—a departure from her highly praised historicals Tipping the Velvet (1999), Affinity (2000) and Fingersmith (2002).

It’s indeed a story of relationships, which begins in 1947 in a London rooming-house where sinister Mr. Leonard treats the afflicted using Christian Science principles, and from which boarder Kay Langrish, an ambulance driver during the recent war, wanders the streets seeking the woman she had loved and lost years ago. Waters skillfully draws us into the lives of those who orbit around these two figures: elderly Mr. Munday, and his dutiful young “nephew,” ex-convict Duncan Pearce; Duncan’s sister Vivian, stalled in a dingy relationship with her married lover; “Viv’s” business partner Helen Givner, with whom she operates a matchmaking concern; and Helen’s lover Julia Standing, a beautiful, self-possessed bestselling mystery novelist. We gradually learn how the death of Duncan’s lover Alec Planer had set Duncan on a course of self-destruction, and also how virtually all the novel’s women have at one time been involved with, yearned for and/or failed or betrayed one another. The strong emphasis on same-sex attraction threatens to reduce the book to something very like a manifesto. But Waters’s mastery of period detail carries the day, and the work is further distinguished by several brilliant sequences: Mr. Mundy’s slow, patient seduction of the helplessly vulnerable Duncan; Viv’s botched abortion, performed by a sublimely creepy back-street dentist; Helen’s panicked reaction to evidence of Julia’s infidelity; and Kay’s stoical labors during the Blitz, when she’s partnered with another young woman who will not be “the one” of whom she dreams.

A cut below this author’s superb earlier books, but very much worth reading.

Pub Date: March 23, 2006

ISBN: 1-59448-905-X

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2005

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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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