A meandering account of life among disaffected expatriates that ultimately overstays its visa: a second novel from New Zealander Wilkins (The Miserables, 1993) All the usual confusions that plague young people are prominent among Wilkins's brood, none of whom seems much more adult than the children who have somehow fallen into their care. Adrian Jankowiecz, a university dropout living on the lam in London, finds himself suddenly responsible for the upbringing of his unknown son Daniel when his mother dies and the boy is sent from New Zealand to the custody of his father in England. Adrian, without work, money, or prospects of any kind, takes Daniel to live with him in a squat in Southwark, manages, despite his lack of capital, to put him in a private school, and eventually lands a job in publishing. His boss, a genial incompetent named Timothy Clover, is usually out of town, and the neurotic Mrs. Clover relies upon her nanny Sarah to help take up the slack with the couple's children. Through the nanny network, Sarah becomes friends with Emily, another New Zealander, who looks after the daughter of an American woman in London, and through the Clovers they all get to Adrian and Daniel. We learn a lot about everyone's pasts and their families—Adrian's people were Polish refugees who survived Russian labor camps and escaped to New Zealand, and Timothy Clover is a ne'er-do-well son who has been set up in publishing by embarrassed relatives—but there is an odd absence at the center of the tale. All of the dramas that lie submerged within the plot—Adrian's hapless lethargy, Mrs. Clover's tightly coiled discontent, Daniel's helplessness—come back again and again to the surface but are never fully developed or explained, leaving the narrative seeming rather haphazard and, ultimately, aimless. Rich with shading and detail, but too loosely organized for its own good: a crowded canvas that badly wants some focal point.

Pub Date: June 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-8050-4951-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1997

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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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