A subtle and disturbing evocation of post-glasnost Russia by Nobel-winner and nouveau romancier Simon. A group of 15 international guests and their interpreters are taken from one staged event to another: the Bolshoi Ballet, Lake Baikal, a new city in Central Asia, and an ancient monastery. Ostensibly invited to offer their views on peace in the 2lst century, they travel around in sealed cars and planes to each carefully orchestrated event, where they meet with the Secretary- General—a man who wants to persuade the rest of the world ``that it was possible that a fairly normal man could have followed a succession of bandits,'' though he remained a leader who ``could not only destroy half the world but still order a corporal to put out the lights in a police station where there was nothing more to see than a yellow wall.'' The guests are barely disguised versions of those who accompanied Simon himself on a trip to Russia in 1986, and it's part of the fun here to guess who they might be because the hints are heavy: the Russian-born actor who played Nero in an epic movie; the American playwright once married to the most beautiful woman in the world; and a black painter/general. Typically, there is no true narrative, only an accumulation of details and observations that together describe a totalitarian society—one built on the deaths of millions and still in thrall to that past. And glasnost itself is as empty of meaning as all the words ``scratched out or scribbled'' at these meetings. Language and style are all for Simon, but the long convoluted sentences he favors are particularly effective in this quiet but devastating satire of totalitarianism made over for popular consumption. Close reading, but worth it.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 1991

ISBN: 0-916583-79-1

Page Count: 77

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1991

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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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