Screenwriter Wagner's second well-done Hollywood novel (Force Majeure, 1991) surveys the mostly sordid L.A. scene from top to bottom, making up for a lack of dramatic focus with lots of hypergossipy vignettes of hustling, deviance, New Age goofiness, and consumer lust—and that's just among the successful. Wagner's bitchy narrative compiles an index of Hollywood types from pathetic wannabes and has-beens to lucky arrivistes and powerbrokers. Their degrees of separation are much lower than you'd expect, forming a daisy-chain of odd relations, with such sites in common as a children-with-AIDS benefit, a New Age seminar, and restaurants where the help is always on the entertainment make. Mostly, though, Wagner's characters speak in manic monologues, and the result is a cacophony of disembodied cellular voices. They include those of the dying wife of a producer, her hot-shot ICM agent-son, a Big Star with a taste for drugs and melodrama, her drug-pushing doctor, and a psychiatrist's son who makes a living cleaning out dead animals from houses. Women sound off in various genres: A producer hoping to remake Pasolini's Teorema pens her memoir † la Julia Phillips; an insane masseuse claims in her manuscript to have conceived the hottest TV shows; a waitress turned porn star commits her aspirations to a diary; and a TV casting director, hoping to be a movie producer, writes letters to her newborn son, blind from birth and rejected by his coke-addled dad. Wagner dips his pen deep in venom for his portraits of truly despicable characters like mega-hit producer Zev Turtletaub, an obnoxious member of the gay elite, who treats his assistant like a sex slave and has little time for his own sister, dying of AIDS. Much smarter than the recent bunch of novels and movies on Hollywood, and much more believable for its very lack of a narrative hook.

Pub Date: July 17, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41927-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1996

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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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