Carcaterra (Sleepers, 1995) knows how to keep a story moving, but by now it’s such a tired story that those romanticized...

GANGSTER

Yet another of those tedious underworld novels in which Godfathers and Galahads tend to overlap, this time in early 20th-century New York.

After a long and sanguinary run, boss Angelo Vestieri lies dying, while a young man we know only as Gabe keeps a loving vigil by his bedside. Gabe venerates Angelo as a man of honor, and it’s through him that much of Vestieri’s story is told. True, Gabe acknowledges, for most of his life Angelo has been something of a killing machine, but there’s an upside. That would be “the code.” Angelo’s unswerving commitment to its rigid, demanding precepts is, in Gabe’s view, downright chivalric. Granted, Angelo is a gangster, has always been a gangster, enjoys being a gangster, has grown rich being a gangster—nevertheless, Gabe insists, he is a principled gangster. From the time he began running numbers at age ten for racketeer kingpin Angus McQueen, Angelo has believed that the code would redeem him, that if he adhered to it his behavior (no matter how murderous) would be estimable in his peers’ eyes and self-affirming in his own. Gabe agrees. Moreover, he owes a great deal to Angelo, who took him off the streets and gave him all he knows of home and family. Angelo’s heart’s desire is to have Gabe follow in his footsteps and be the kind of model career criminal the code was invented to justify. So Angelo trains Gabe, preparing the definitive gangster’s curriculum for him to study. The question that preoccupies them both—and the author—is: Will Gabe ever be able to kill people with the brio required?

Carcaterra (Sleepers, 1995) knows how to keep a story moving, but by now it’s such a tired story that those romanticized Mafiosi can no longer make their bones.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-345-40100-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2000

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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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