Unbearable burdens made no less unbearable.


First novel by Irish writer Collins, of West Cork.

Novel? More like a verbal sketchpad of talented charcoal portraits in fast, minimalist banter that catch victims of sexual cannibalization at their most exposed. It often sounds like Mike Leigh’s actors improvising dialogue before it gets nailed down for his films. Here are perhaps eighty brief pieces of life, most of them touching on sex and adultery, some just touching on turns of speech, with people rattling off their sex problems, most at the kitchen-sink level of rapping. The majority are set in England, some in the States. Among the longer is the title piece, in which David, a cabinet minister, seems at first to be getting serviced orally by Lorraine, a girl who works for David and wants to marry him and have babies, while David wants only immediate gratification and so spins endless justifications around Lorraine, who finds that what David really wants is to have his toes sucked, not his peepee. Do all these pieces add up to a minor Dubliners? Well, they might never have been written had Joyce not developed the vignette to a fare-thee-well in Ulysses. Perhaps it’s too early to say what these do add up to. Here is the complete “Nora”: “I don’t think he quite appreciates how it is but just because we’re at it like a pair of demented bunnies doesn’t mean we’re a couple.” One wants to praise Collins for a fine ear at these improvisations, and it may be that younger readers—and writers—will take them with the seriousness they may deserve. When Collins does write a full-dress novel with the same verve he shows here, this sketchpad will grow in stature.

Unbearable burdens made no less unbearable.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-09-928668-8

Page Count: 158

Publisher: Vintage UK/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2002

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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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