When Reiss’ novel clicks, it works as both a strange vision of our own world and an evocative landscape unto itself; when it...


The protagonist of this satirical and borderline-dystopian novel must navigate familial crises, natural disasters, and the reach of a boorish, omnipresent head of state.

This is Reiss’ first novel after numerous volumes of poetry, but unlike many a poet-turned-novelist, he hasn’t opted for a stoic lyricism in his fiction. Instead, the active mode here is a satirical one. Set in the near future in a desert state grappling with sandstorms and external threats, this novel tells the story of a man named Boyd as his life undergoes several upheavals over the course of many days. A number of stylized elements stand out, including a ritualized aspect found in many characters’ speech, involving tributes to the head of state, one Guv’na Brush. Largely, this plays out like a fun-house reflection of contemporary politics, from Brush’s general dislike of literature, photography, and media to an allusion made to something being “a ruse cooked up by reporters.” Hints are scattered throughout as to how the present day gave way to this more catastrophic landscape; the ways in which dates have given way to a system based on a cult of personality suggest a more authoritarian version of the calendar found in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. There are abundant contrasts to be found here, from the evocative landscapes that Boyd observes to the not-exactly-subtle commentary Reiss makes on American conservatism, militarism, racism, and anti-intellectualism. At times the juxtaposition between the two makes for a memorably jarring experience; at others, its relative success may depend on where its reader falls on the political spectrum.

When Reiss’ novel clicks, it works as both a strange vision of our own world and an evocative landscape unto itself; when it doesn’t, the result is flatter and less insightful about the present day.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-941-55089-2

Page Count: 315

Publisher: Spuyten Duyvil

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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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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