Outré and disturbingly engaging.


A novel that reads like a journal—with all entries meditations on the theme of death.

If readers approach this book with conventional expectations (e.g., exposition, complication, climax, denouement), they will be disappointed, for McCartney (The End of the World Book, 2008) forgoes all these elements of fiction. Instead, the narrator—whose voice is impossible to distinguish from that of the author—offers us thoughts on death, dying, corpses, coffins, grave robbers, hearses, cemeteries, and much more. The setting that serves as the locus of “action” here is Holy Cross Cemetery in Los Angeles, the final resting place (as the narrator informs us) of Rita Hayworth, Sharon Tate, Lawrence Welk, and Jimmy Durante, and surely a group as disparate as this shows us death as the great equalizer. We also learn about mass murderers such as the Birnies, a couple who over a period of two months in 1986 “abducted, raped, tortured, and murdered four young women” in Australia, where the author grew up. In fact, he (or the narrator) claims to have met them once. The narrative that unfolds here is obviously grim, but the arcana can be undeniably fascinating. (One is tempted to insert “alas” here.) For example, among other lessons, we learn about the “odors” of death. The narrator admits to being obsessed by his subject. As he states, “I’m the world’s worst listener, except when the subject is death and my ears prick up.” And he’s not concerned solely with the material world—metaphysical speculations enter into his thoughts as well: “when it comes to death, God is at his most imaginative; death is where he gets creative.”

Outré and disturbingly engaging.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-299-31470-5

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Univ. of Wisconsin

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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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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