A great comic novel and a huge leap forward for one of America’s most underrated and accomplished writers.


The culture of pharmaceutical overkill is the subject—and target—of this high-energy fifth novel from the little-known comic surrealist whose best books (American Goliath, 1998, etc.) rival the late 20th-century antic fiction of Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller and Stanley Elkin.

Its protagonist—and victim—is Simon Apple, whose uniquely embattled life (shaped by the unforeseen effects of prescribed medications) unrolls before him when he’s on death row awaiting execution for a “murder” suspiciously linked to the very pharmaceutical company responsible for Simon’s alarming bodily transformations. As Jacobs juxtaposes the story of Simon’s life with details of his incarceration, the worst excesses of corporate greed and malfeasance, the cult of fame and the danger zones of sex and commitment are skewered with a ferocious energy that recalls the genial albeit pitch-black madness of Catch-22 and the weirdly wonderful new science of H.G. Wells’s Tono-Bungay. As Simon is successively afflicted with “explosive growth,” the possession of (first) antlers then gills, penile contraction and expansion, electronically mischievous flatulence and other arcane dysfunctions, his usefulness as poster boy for corporate behemoth Regis Pharmaceuticals is pronounced dead. And CEO Regis Van Clay, an egomaniacal masochist of hilariously epic dimensions, schemes to erase the blot on his company’s escutcheon that perpetually ailing Simon has become. At times this novel’s ebullient particulars threaten to overwhelm the reader, but beating beneath its manic surface (like Simon’s unstoppable heart) is a brilliant expressionistic portrayal of an all-too-human sufferer “doomed to live life at arm’s length, a stranger to everyone including himself.” Despite numerous antecedents and influences—besides those aforementioned, there are echoes of Richard Condon, S.J. Perelman, James Purdy’s bizarre bildungsroman Malcolm and Katherine Dunn’s even more bizarre masterpiece Geek Love—Jacobs’s monstrous satire is a truly original work.

A great comic novel and a huge leap forward for one of America’s most underrated and accomplished writers.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-96-341851-7

Page Count: 392

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2009

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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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