Salinger's Catcher remains the gold standard. Crazy is only another imitation.

CRAZY

Shades of Holden Caulfield in the wicked city, on the lam from Pencey Prep.

That's pretty much the story of this already famous first novel by a German teenager (born in 1982 yet), which has inexplicably been hailed in his country's press as ``a thoroughly amazing and wonderful book'' (Der Spiegel). It isn't. It's the firstperson tale (narrated in present tense and in short, punchy sentences and sentence fragments) of a 16yearold disabled boy named ``Benjamin Lebert'' who is partially paralyzed—and, hence, understandably enough, an academic underachiever who is sent to boarding school (ostensibly to repeat ninth grade; actually to be protected from the spectacle of his parents' marriage collapsing). Benjamin might be a more engaging character if he and his schoolmates (including Fat Felix, depressive Troy, and Benjamin's romanticfool roommate, Janosch) were less generic and their ``adventures'' less derivative. A hopeful visit to a sex therapist, for example, falls woefully flat. A raid on the girls' dorm is both attenuated and thinly described (though Benjamin does lose his virginity). A willfully ``crazy'' afterhours trip to nearby Munich—where Benjamin and his pals bond with a clean old man who gets them admitted (quite unbelievably) to a strip joint—never manages to be as madcap as Lebert seemingly intends, because the boys' moony animadversions on the subjects of Life, God, and Sex are unfortunately both redundant and banal. Only very occasionally does an impudent insight rear its head (``Life's too complicated.''/``Yes, . . . but girls are hot''). If you keep reminding yourself its author is barely 18, Crazy becomes, barely, tolerable. The novel simply traverses ground we've been over too many times already and makes far too little of its protagonist's potential uniqueness.

Salinger's Catcher remains the gold standard. Crazy is only another imitation.

Pub Date: April 21, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-40913-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2000

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

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A LITTLE LIFE

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.

FRIENDS FOREVER

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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