An innocent and mild-mannered boy grows up fast and ugly as his choice of friends sucks him into another family’s self-destructive tailspin: a relentlessly hardscrabble debut. In the northern reaches of rural Vermont, where dirt roads are fast tracks for renegades and every house and trailer hides a tragedy, 16-year-old Jessup is simply trying to come to terms with a first awkward romance. After going the whole season without kissing the girl who was a summer visitor, he’s now left with fishing and daydreaming to occupy his time. All that changes, however, on the day when Reg nearly runs him over as Jessup is trying to hitch a ride after his bike breaks down. Reg is older, a hard-driving, hard-drinking, hard-nosed ex-con with a big marijuana harvest to haul out of the mountains and a grudge against a local pair of brothers who are also in the cultivation business and whom he blames for sending him to prison. He gives Jessup a ride to remember, first introducing him to his family: wheelchair-bound Hal, a weight-guessing barker at county fairs; and Marigold, whose married life hasn't been the same since her logger husband lopped off a piece of his equipment with the chainsaw. Hal and Reg get Jessup so stoned, drunk, and dizzy that he’s sick. Then Marigold comes on to him, and when the night is over the boy hardly knows who he is anymore. Worse, the dark side to Reg is swiftly triggered when, in his cabin, he finds a cousin all shot up amid the pot plants. He hatches a malevolent plan, with Jessup’s unwitting aid, that’s somewhere between suicidal and just crazy. When the smoke clears, Jessup is battered, traumatized by all he’s seen, and utterly alone. Absent fathers are the supposed reason for this whole misadventure. Maybe, but the characters move at the speed of light toward rack and ruin, and the psychology can't keep up.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-670-88517-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2000

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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