An exquisitely written novel in which not much happens, yet everything is significant.

RAVEL

French author Echenoz (Piano, 2004, etc.) quietly chronicles the final ten years of composer Maurice Ravel’s life.

There’s nothing flashy here—no glitz or glitter, nothing overstated or overblown. The story begins in Ravel’s house at Montfort-l’Amaury, “a small dwelling [which] is itself stuffed with small things,” including the diminutive composer. We follow his journey on the ocean liner France, his triumphant, four-month American tour in 1928, his return to France and his wanderings to the Basque country where he was born. Along the way, we learn of Ravel’s eccentricities, his ritualized eating habits, his dandyism, his crippling insomnia and, of course, his musical proclivities (e.g., that Ravel is not a virtuoso, his hands being too small and the physical demands of performance too great). Echenoz’s use of dense detail anchors the reader firmly in Ravel’s world, as in the depiction of an accident that accelerated the composer’s final physical decline: “They’re about to turn left into the Rue d’Athènes when another taxi speeds out of the intersection, this one a Renault Celtaquatre driven by Henri Lacep, sallow complexion and checkered cap.” We learn of the ironies of Bolero, Ravel’s most famous composition, yet one that he felt had “no form…no development or modulation, just some rhythm and arrangement.” (At the end of one of the first performances of this piece, Ravel is forced to agree with the woman, who designated him a “madman.”) Ravel’s commitment to the integrity of his art extends to his icy disapproval of Paul Wittgenstein’s improvised “additions” to Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand.

An exquisitely written novel in which not much happens, yet everything is significant.

Pub Date: June 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-59558-115-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2007

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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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