Tired and familiar territory, but not without some promise.


A stilted, self-conscious debut chronicles one of those defining boyhood friendships that changes life forever.

The year and the friendship that transform adolescence are by now a familiar cliché. Though southern author Riggs tries to give them literary heft by turning the flight of finches into metaphors to frame the narrative, the story is essentially a collection of types and incidents—promising much but never delivering, as the predictable cast of doomed characters inevitably mess up. Set in the 1960s in a small North Carolina town on flood-prone Finch Creek, the story is told by Raybert, who lives with his unstable mother Inez. Daddy, a former GI, has a drinking problem and is often away, and Raybert’s best friend Palmer lives across the street. Palmer is slight for his age, has a flaming birthmark on his head, and regularly consults with RC, his dead father. His mother has a new man in her life, Edgar, a hard-drinking pervert, who takes and collects photographs. When Raybert turns 13, his life becomes even more complicated as Palmer steals one of Edgar’s photographs that shows a lynching of a local African-American. The picture clearly shows Raybert’s Daddy as part of the mob. With this to ponder, the year starts going into free-fall as Daddy comes back and tries to woo Inez with a new garden that’s soon destroyed by the flooding Finch Creek; and Inez has a miscarriage, breaks down, and is hospitalized. Meanwhile, Palmer increasingly angers the abusive Edgar with his pert comments. Palmer, whose mother is as abusive as Edgar, dreams of running away to Myrtle Beach with Raybert as soon as he can reach the pedals of RC’s 1965 Pontiac Catalina, currently parked in the drive. As Edgar gets the Pontiac running and notches up his abuse, Raybert’s Daddy moves out and Raybert goes to live with his wealthy aunt and uncle. Poor Palmer isn’t so fortunate.

Tired and familiar territory, but not without some promise.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-345-46794-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2003

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize

  • National Book Award Finalist


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet