A gothic plot with literary ambitions—but also with a protagonist whose chillingly monstrous behavior makes sympathy out of...


A sluggishly paced debut, Maine-set, tells what price a woman is prepared to pay to keep the family farm—a price that includes lies, betrayal, and even murder.

Chapters are prefaced with quotes from beekeeping lore to underline the role of central character Regina Merritt Gilley, a woman of strong appetites and will whose Maine is not a picturesque tourist destination but a place of dark forests, long winters, and pervasive poverty where farmers struggle to wrest livings from poor soil. The story opens in 1956, as Caleb Gilley (one of the narrators) helps Regina bury Duffy, the old man who has lived with Ginny all Caleb’s life and whom Caleb thinks may be his real father. Ginny recalls her own childhood on the farm, back when her father sexually abuses two older sisters until one fights back and hits him with a shovel. Ginny also recalls her great pride at being entrusted with her father’s hives, and how over the years she was to grow into an outstanding beekeeper. At school, she falls in love with classmate Duffy, but, determined to find a man wealthy enough to improve the farm, marries Harry Gilley, an affluent visitor. She gives birth to two daughters and tricks her ailing father into believing the elder girl is a boy so that he’ll leave the farm to “him” in his will. Over the years, Harry becomes an alcoholic, Ginny barters sex for money, lies to her children, and murders a man whose presence is inconvenient—all to make sure that the farm remains hers. Still, Duffy is the only man she’s loved, and, mourning him, she finally tells Caleb the surprising truth about his parentage.

A gothic plot with literary ambitions—but also with a protagonist whose chillingly monstrous behavior makes sympathy out of the question.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-765-30174-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Forge

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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