A witty, deft, well-conceived tale that combines sharp satire with real suspense.


A black comedy about an unemployed factory worker who becomes a hit man, by the author of A Working Stiff’s Manifesto (2002).

Like many others in his blue-collar Wisconsin town, Jake Skowran worked for the tractor factory until management went south and found Mexicans to do the same jobs for seven bucks a day. Laid off, Jake took a job as a convenience-store clerk that barely paid enough to keep him alive. So he started gambling to pick up extra cash—and soon owed over $4,000. His bookie Ken Gardocki had a good heart, however, and he’d known Jake a long time, so he cut him a deal: Jake could wipe out his debt if he murdered Ken’s unfaithful wife for him. Happy to oblige, Jake found killing a lot easier than he expected—so easy, in fact, that later he bumped off his store manager just for the thrill of it. Then he traveled to New York on assignment to dispatch an AIDS patient who needed to die of unnatural causes (so his boyfriend could collect insurance), and he even knocked off an undercover cop who’d begun asking too many questions about him and Ken. When the police eventually take notice and call Jake in for questioning, he holds to his story (Ken had provided solid alibis for both of them), and they can’t pin anything on him. In the course of his dealings with the cops, Jake meets and falls in love with Officer Sheila Zadow, who knows that Ken is a small-time mobster but believes Jake is innocent. Jake even takes her “on vacation” to Miami, where Ken has sent him to whack his late wife’s lover. What better cover can a hit man have than a cop for a girlfriend? But love has had a bad effect on Jake: it gives him something to live for—almost as bad as having a conscience.

A witty, deft, well-conceived tale that combines sharp satire with real suspense.

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-56947-335-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2003

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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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