Beautiful, extremely moving in its outline and sentiments, but a much different matter on the page: overlong, rambling,...

LIVING’S THE STRANGE THING

Ponderous account of a woman coming to terms with the death (and life) of her mother, as related by Spanish novelist Gaite (The Farewell Angel, 1999, etc.) in a deeply obsessive, introspective voice.

Águeda Soler, a 35-year-old graduate student in Madrid, works as a library archivist by day and devotes her spare time to the evolving draft of her dissertation, a study of an obscure 18th-century adventurer who roamed through Europe and South America in search of wealth and influence. Meantime, Águeda has a boyfriend named Tomas, an architect who is frequently away on business. As the story opens, Agueda is summoned to her grandfather’s nursing home, where the director asks her whether she would be willing to impersonate her recently deceased mother in order to spare her ailing grandfather the shock of learning of his daughter’s death. Somewhat taken aback, Águeda promises to consider the request and returns home. As she then goes about her daily chores, she is overwhelmed by a flood of memories and dreams of her family and home. Like most of us, she has ambivalent feelings about her parents: Her father (still alive) and her mother divorced while Águeda was a girl, and for years before her mother’s death she had little contact with either parent. Her mother was a well-known painter, and her death was widely noted in the press. As she packs up her mother’s artwork and belongings, Águeda comes to feel an identification with her that she had always resisted as a child, and she returns to the nursing home ready to take on the strange new role.

Beautiful, extremely moving in its outline and sentiments, but a much different matter on the page: overlong, rambling, monotonous.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-84343-037-1

Page Count: 204

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2004

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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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