An engaging but subdued portrait of a legend.

RUNNING

Understated novel about the rise and fall of Czech runner Emil Zátopek.

Goncourt winner Echenoz (Ravel, 2007, etc.) recently seems to be specializing in thinly fictionalizing the lives of real people. Zátopek is a good choice for inherent drama; he was at first rewarded and then punished by Communist Party authorities. The decision to reward came easily, for Zátopek astounded all by running. For many years he remained an officer in the Czech army and received a promotion with almost every victory, from European championships to the Olympics. Echenoz emphasizes that Zátopek was not a stylish runner but instead an awkward and ungainly plugger—not pretty to watch but pragmatically effective. For a while he simply couldn’t be beaten, and for more than five years he was the fastest man in the world in long distances. While his specialty was the 10,000 meters, he also showed himself adept at both 5,000 meters and marathons, winning gold medals in all three at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. Eventually, however, age and a punishing training regimen took a toll on his body, and he started to lose. In one telling and sorrowful moment, Zátopek passes through Orly airport on his way to a race in Spain and sees the usual crush of news reporters and photographers. “How kind of them to show up,” he thinks, “it’s always nice to see you haven’t been forgotten.” In fact, he finds, they’re gathered to report on Elizabeth Taylor, who has just flown in from London. When he comments on the Soviet invasion of 1968, his naïve and impolitic remarks lead the authorities to strip him of his army commission and his right to live in Prague, then to banish him to work in a uranium mine.

An engaging but subdued portrait of a legend.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-59558-473-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2009

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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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