A complex, absorbing, and occasionally moving read.

CHRISTMAS IN JULY

A thoroughly unsentimental novel told from 10 different perspectives, all having at their center Beatrice (who renames herself “Christmas”), a 13-year-old dying of cancer.

Parker sets himself a difficult task here—telling the story of a young girl with cancer in a way that doesn’t try to wring a cheap emotional response from readers. What makes this easier is the character of Christmas herself, who is at times wise, opinionated, angry, recalcitrant, sarcastic, and mean. The narrative is told in fragments by 10 people who have come in contact with Christmas, often in extraordinarily brief encounters. The facts are simple: Christmas Danzig has recently been put in the care of her Aunt Nikki because her father, Otto, has died, and her “wide-eyed, dipshit, junkie mother” is unable to care for her. Far from being grateful, Christmas runs away and winds up encountering a variety of characters, some good-hearted and others merely eccentric. Parker is a master of tonal complexity, for these encounters can range from the hilarious to the poignant to the enigmatic, often within the same story. One of Christmas’ most moving encounters doesn’t even involve physically meeting another character but rather corresponding with Dorothy, a woman who’s started the Dear Dorothy blog about The Wizard of Oz. When Christmas posts that she wants to meet the woman behind the blog, a correspondence develops that opens Dorothy up emotionally—until she discovers that her boyfriend has been faking some of Christmas’ letters. In another story a woman named Evie feverishly prepares for GlitterFest, a subculture that gives meaning to her life, and only at the very end of the story does Christmas appear and express a desire to see the show. The final story, from the perspective of Aunt Nikki and written after Christmas’ death, provides a more thorough overview of Christmas’ life and of her effect, both good and bad, on others.

A complex, absorbing, and occasionally moving read.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-945814-46-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dzanc

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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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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