The hapless lives and hard times of Scottish autoworkers are the core of Torrington's follow-up to his 1992 Whitbread-winner, Swing Hammer Swing! (1994), though the zest and wit that marked that earlier debut novel appear only fitfully here. The cast includes Steve Laker, who drops his anti- multinational stand to take a job as telexer in the Yank-owned Centaur Car Company plant, where he finds deplorable working conditions and bosses so far from being human that the line workers refer to them as ``Martians.'' Next up is Wormsley, a careworn man with a wife insistent that he work the late shift, having, when we meet him, a worse night than usual on the line. Feeling poorly, he visits the company infirmary only to be sent home immediately, though he drops dead in front of a fishmonger's shop before he gets there. Humor is interlaced with tragedy from that point on: One worker fakes his death to get a few days off, then returns to find himself suspected of theft and canned; a Christian supervisor confronts the plant's porn king, forcing him to tear down all his pinups, learning to his shame—a shame so great that it drives him to suicide—that a photo of his own university-educated daughter is a prize in the man's collection; at his retirement ceremony, the head of company security is given binoculars—with which he spots a team of thieves he'd spent his entire career trying to catch. Friction between workers and management keeps things in a constant state of upheaval, until the corporate parent, with eyes only for the bottom line, makes a decision with disastrous consequences for everyone. Colorful, yes, but little in this view of factory life is new, and the episodic style, while it does offer vivid stories and characters, works against Torrington's greater strength as a realist, his ability to catch the dense particulars of working- class neighborhoods and life.

Pub Date: July 10, 1997

ISBN: 0-15-100247-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1997

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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