Baricco sails uneasily between the cheap and deep, albeit sometimes grippingly.


From Italy’s prize-winning Baricco (City, 2002; Ocean Sea, 1999, etc.), a thinny-thin little tale that stretches credibility but takes up big imponderables.

After a war that’s unnamed but sounds like WWII, three men come to a remote farmhouse somewhere in Italy to slay another man: Manuel Roca, an erstwhile medical doctor from the losing side in the war, whose hospital, according to those now coming to kill him, was a Dr. Mengele–like place of torture and despair such that patients asked only for death (which one of the three men now present indeed gave to his own agonized brother when he found him in that hospital). The atrocities of Manuel Roca are hearsay to the reader, though the atrocities visited upon him are not, as he is first tortured and then killed, as his preteen son is machine-gunned into bits—and as his young daughter listens to all from a root cellar under the floor. The boy-monster, Tito, who does the machine-gunning, is also the one who opens the cellar and sees the girl lying down below—and spares her, if only because the other two killers don’t hear him shout that she’s there. So much for the book’s first half. In the second, an aging woman—the girl of the cellar—walks in a city, comes upon a man selling lottery tickets from inside a booth, begs him to close up shop and come with her to a café—where she reveals that she’s the girl he spared and that she knows he’s the killer Tito who, albeit by accident, let her live. The two talk, weep, reconstruct the events between then and now, events that include the apparent fact of the woman’s having tracked down the other two of the three killers and killed them in revenge. And so what does she have in mind, now, for the lost, aged, and haunted-by-the-past Tito?

Baricco sails uneasily between the cheap and deep, albeit sometimes grippingly.

Pub Date: June 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-4000-4145-7

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2004

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


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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