A grimly beautiful depiction of the ugliness of war.


An American soldier in Vietnam struggles to reconcile himself to the horrors of combat in this debut novel. 

Theo Garrett simply isn’t prepared for Vietnam, such an extraordinary contrast to the Vermont summers of his youth. After the draftee arrives in the war-torn country, he’s handed an M-16, a weapon with which he’s never trained; he discovers that his pants don’t fit; and he’s all but immediately assigned to guard duty. Theo is a combat engineer who specializes in water purification systems but his technical expertise doesn’t spare him from the grim reality of war—the violence and danger are ubiquitous. He’s nearly killed by sniper fire but seems to take no solace in his survival; nor can he find lasting comfort in religion. McGinnis movingly portrays Theo’s mounting emotional trauma. In one heartbreaking scene, his superior officer decides not to risk lives by attempting to rescue fellow soldiers shot down in a helicopter: “I felt nausea build inside my stomach as the convoy pulled out. I felt relieved for not having to go into the valley to fight, but I knew the men in the Chinook would die or be taken prisoner. I felt safe and cowardly.” Theo reacts to his terrifying environment by becoming something of a screw-up—he narrowly averts being sent to military prison, first for shooting up a hotel, and then for going AWOL. The author concludes the book with a personal reflection on his own Vietnam experiences, observing “there is nothing glamorous about war.” McGinnis writes poetically melancholic prose, and artfully constructs a dark atmosphere of foreboding and despair. The only barrier to readers’ full immersion is the inscrutability of the protagonist—one doesn’t have enough of a sense of Theo’s character prior to the war to fully appreciate his withering under it. In fact, readers will develop a stronger connection to the author, who is far more forthcoming about himself than the character he conjures. Still, this is a dramatically haunting book and an emotionally searching peek at the wages of war. 

A grimly beautiful depiction of the ugliness of war. 

Pub Date: April 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5304-8142-2

Page Count: 216

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

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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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