A novel full of people—flawed, scarred, scared—discovering how to punish themselves less and connect with others more.


Hoffman takes a break from writing about distant places and the distant past (Marriage of Opposites, 2015, etc.) to explore the psyche of a young Long Island woman afflicted by survivor guilt.

In her own mind, Shelby Richmond stole her best friend’s future. Two years have passed since the car accident that left Helene tethered to a feeding tube in her childhood bedroom just before she should have graduated from high school, a mute but lovely shadow of her former badass self, a magnet for pilgrims hoping to be cured by touching her hand. This cringeworthy spectacle sometimes causes Shelby to ponder whether it's better or worse that her friend lived. Mainly, though, Shelby focuses on enacting her own penance for being physically and cognitively intact (the jury’s out on emotionally): by shaving her head, sleeping like Dracula in her parents’ basement, skipping college, and sometimes cutting herself in places she thinks won’t be detected. Miserable as things are for Shelby, Hoffman provides readers as well as her deeply wounded heroine some quirky human anchors to make her journey back to higher functionality more than bearable, even entertaining: e.g., an anonymous Samaritan, apparently male, who sends her hand-drawn postcards bearing get-well messages in the form of visual and verbal riddles. And there's black-humored levity in Shelby’s snarky exchanges with Ben Mink—her marijuana source who's grown from high school geek to handsome striver and brings her Ray Bradbury books to read. “I believe in tragedy,” she tells him apropos of Helene’s faithful flock. “Not miracles.” Though bald and self-medicating, she grasps that moving in with Ben while he attends pharmacy grad school (!!!) at NYU might be a better direction. While shacking up with Ben, she finds a job cleaning cages at a gritty pet store. The silver lining is her co-worker Maravelle, a single mom of three young kids, whose lack of self-pity over her bad luck with men ("See a charmer and you're bound to see a snake nearby") attracts Shelby. Perhaps there’s a way these two bruised women can help each other? Ultimately, though, it’s Sue Richmond, Shelby’s mom, who proves to be the real saint of the narrative—her unobtrusive shaping of Shelby’s better instincts is one of the most touching aspects of the book. With Hoffman, it’s a safe bet deus ex machina or mild enchantment is going to enter the plot. By the time it does, however, Shelby’s well on her way to recalibrating. She couldn’t save her friend, but Hoffman endows her with the inner weather to save herself.

A novel full of people—flawed, scarred, scared—discovering how to punish themselves less and connect with others more.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-9920-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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