A South American theater troupe revisits an anti-establishment play and generates some new drama in the latest political allegory by Alarcón (Lost City Radio, 2007).

As in Lost City Radio, this novel is concerned with the aftereffects of revolution and the surprising ways revolutionary rhetoric endures. Set in an unnamed Andean country, the story centers on Nelson, an aspiring actor who lands a role with Diciembre, a theater company that’s dusting off its best-known work, “The Idiot President,” for a revival. As the play’s title suggests, Diciembre’s work wasn’t subtle, but it was a touchstone 25 years previously, and its author, Henry, did time in a notoriously harsh prison for it. Henry and his colleague Patalarga take on Nelson for the tour, and though the three have an easy rapport, we know early something has gone wrong: The narrator is a reporter who’s quoting everybody involved except Nelson. Alarcón’s decision to frame the story as a superlong magazine story has its downsides: The novel has a tonal flatness that makes the story feel lighter than intended. But the outsider-looking-in perspective gives the narration both a sense of omniscience and intimacy, since the reporter knew the players. As the tour goes off the rails, Alarcón explores the idea of how imitation creates reality: The play's restaging revives old revolutionary feelings; Nelson obsesses over his role with the woman he left behind; and he falls into the orbit of a family who's bullied him to pretend to be a long-lost relative. In time, Nelson unwittingly becomes the target of a number of men, an absurd scenario that's shot through with tragedy. Mind who you pretend to be, Alarcón suggests; the story you tell can be a surprisingly potent one. That's true with this book, too. Though the book is low on lyricism, Alarcón successfully merges themes of art, love and politics.


Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59463-171-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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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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