The novel really isn’t this writer’s métier, and The Doctor’s House is not one of her better books.


A family so dysfunctional that it makes the House of Atreus look like the Brady Bunch gradually reveals its secrets in Beattie’s emotionally charged seventh novel, her first since My Life, Starring Dara Falcon (1997).

The story’s told by three narrators, beginning with fortysomething Nina, a freelance copy editor, widowed since her beloved husband’s death from injuries sustained in a car crash, still locked in a tense symbiotic relationship with her brother Andrew, a divorced computer programmer and—like their father (the “doctor” of the title) before him—a compulsive philanderer. When Andrew informs Nina that he’s decided to look up an old (female) high school friend, her thoughts range back to various times during their unhappy childhood, and to Andrew’s several failures (which, back then, seemed to be successes) with women. The ill-judged middle section employs the viewpoint of their (unnamed) mother, whose lachrymose recounting of her victimization by her selfish husband, and her subsequent alcoholism grows quickly tedious and is alleviated only by Beattie’s potent disclosure of the woman’s indifference to her shell-shocked children (“Truth be told, they seemed like two other adults who lived in our house”). Finally, we get Andrew’s version, which succeeds much more fully in depicting an irreversibly damaged psyche, while also telling us a good deal more about the sources and the extent of Nina’s wary withdrawal from other people and obsessive fixation on her brother’s love life. Beattie skillfully avoids the cliché every reader will be expecting, and her portrayal of the coldhearted doctor, a genuine monster of appetite and ego, has a hallucinatory intensity. It’s smartly written, as always, and the dialogue can’t be faulted. And yet . . . one balks at the time spent in the company of these relentlessly unhappy people, suspecting that the situation treated here at novel-length virtually begs to be reshaped within the confines of a typical Beattie short story.

The novel really isn’t this writer’s métier, and The Doctor’s House is not one of her better books.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2002

ISBN: 0-7432-1264-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2001

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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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