Intuitive, thoughtful writing in a shrewd revitalization tale.

SPARROW BEACH

A construction manager living on Long Island struggles to come to terms with change in his personal life and community in this novel.

Michael Dorian’s fortunes appear to be on the rise. Dorian Brothers Construction, the business that he manages with his sibling Willie, is landing ever larger contracts as wave after wave of gentrification buffets Long Island’s East End. Willie is a go-getter who studied business at college, drives a sports car, and seeks to forge a lucrative relationship with a wealthy New York developer. Michael, meanwhile, is an English literature graduate who returned home to help his brother build his business. Willie’s hunger frustrates him, and he much prefers to avoid fussy New York clients in favor of spending time with the workers. Michael’s home life is no less complicated. The novel opens with him sleeping separately from his wife, Vivvy, who has anxiety issues and is intent on building a new life for herself. Her plan for transformation involves her becoming gradually less involved with Michael and their teenage daughter, Tommy, an obsessive compulsive whose routine, troublemaking decisions often mean that she does not go to school. When Vivvy finally leaves Michael, he must take care of Tommy and also keep tabs on Willie, who proves to be far from a transparent business partner. Sparrow Beach is where Michael goes to surf and reflect, but this too is changing. This is a tale about two oppositional mindsets, those who are content with what they have and those who strive for more. Rich New York clients are depicted as “mini-empire builders, spreading their dominion from the city to the end of the island.” This situation poses a direct threat to the way of life of current East End residents, who brace themselves for the influx of wealthy newcomers and the price hikes that will follow. Michael’s position is a precarious one, because his construction company is involved in facilitating an alteration that will ultimately cause the East End to no longer feel like home. Raebeck (Louse Point, 2017) is skilled in communicating the characters’ complex connections to Long Island (Michael and his wife “both loved the land and seascapes of the East End, and Vivvy added something beyond that, something beautiful and complicated that countered the provincial, second fiddle feel of the place”). It is intriguing to see how this link evolves throughout the story, with certain players clinging nostalgically to their former lives while others aggressively seek out the new. Raebeck’s prose captures how individuals and communities react to change. This cannot be described as urgent writing, but its ambling pace should not be mistaken as bland. The author takes time to develop detailed psychological portraits of his characters to the point that the inner sources of their reactions become understandable, if not always admirable. The result is a clever and highly readable novel that examines the impact of gentrification on civic, familial, and personal levels.

Intuitive, thoughtful writing in a shrewd revitalization tale.

Pub Date: May 22, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-64237-144-4

Page Count: 326

Publisher: Gatekeeper Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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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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