A flawed but more-than-promising debut.


This scrupulously lyrical first novel, a winner of the AWP/Thomas Dunne Books Award, is based on a real-life incident that occurred in the mid-1930s in rural Virginia.

Even reveals the event through the consciousnesses of several involved viewpoint characters, the most important being recent college graduate Elsa Childs. Accepting a job with a county “development project,” Elsa soon finds herself obliged to help evict William Wesley and his sister Cora, the black caretakers of a riverfront estate whose land is needed for a proposed industrial plant. Further investigation reveals that the Wesleys’ “quitclaim deed” makes them de facto owners of the entire property, thanks to a will “rigged” to punish its late owner’s heirs. Even balances Elsa’s growing disillusionment with the authority she represents against William’s resentful memories of racist injustice, and the views of such townspeople as a misanthropic “horse doctor,” Elsa’s own weary father (a passive underachiever), and the Wesleys’ canny lawyer Oscar Wedge (a character a younger Orson Welles might have played). The story is distinguished by vivid atmospheric imagery and precise descriptive writing, often lit up by ingenious metaphors (rain falls in “tantrum fits”). But its dialogue vacillates uneasily between colloquial plainness and naked authorial exposition ineptly disguised as summary conversational exchanges (mainly between Cora and William)—and its overload of extended flashbacks unfortunately calls attention to the narrative’s curious structure: its first half is seriously underplotted, its second quite furiously overplotted). For all that, Bloodroot (whose title denotes a deep-rooted flower that appears to “bleed” when pulled from the earth) offers striking characters, a powerful sense of place, and dramatic revelations of the fateful actions of people who “want to believe they’re better than they are . . . to believe in their sinning, . . . [that] it’s something else altogether.”

A flawed but more-than-promising debut.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-312-26561-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2000

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...


Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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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