Although a somewhat-predictable stalking subplot wraps up a little too neatly, the book succeeds as a well-developed...


A talented but troubled surgeon searches for personal and professional redemption in MacDonald’s debut novel.

At one time, Dr. Phil Graham had it all. A successful surgeon praised for his professionalism and rapport with his patients, he’s also happily married to Joan, the love of his life. Graham believes he has the perfect life until a car accident takes the life of his wife and leaves him with severe scars, both physical and emotional. Although he tries to rebuild his world and return to his medical practice, he increasingly finds himself numbing the pain with alcohol and casual sex. The changes in Graham’s lifestyle eventually lead to a series of outbursts in the operating room that threaten his career. Just when Graham’s life and career reach their lowest ebb, he meets Amanda Fellows, the sister of one of his patients, who offers a second chance at love. While Graham takes the first steps toward romance with Amanda, a one-night stand with a woman named Dawn comes back to haunt him when he finds himself stalked by her husband. MacDonald’s brisk, compact narrative is tightly focused on Graham, a compassionate surgeon whose present troubles may be rooted in a tragic childhood. Some of the most effective elements of the novel involve Graham’s interactions with his colleagues and patients. These supporting characters aren’t anonymous set decoration; in many respects, they’re as clearly defined as Graham. An unexpected detour in the action occurs when Graham decides to unravel the secrets of his childhood; however, MacDonald convincingly connects Graham’s past to his current problems. The novel stumbles a bit when it comes to Graham’s ill-fated one-night stand with Dawn. Graham’s initial attraction to her and his reluctance to continue the fling are well-defined, but Dawn and her husband remain murky peripheral characters in a subplot that ultimately seems excessive.

Although a somewhat-predictable stalking subplot wraps up a little too neatly, the book succeeds as a well-developed character study of a man in the midst of a personal crisis.

Pub Date: April 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-1495203459

Page Count: 216

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2014

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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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