Second-novelist Herman (The Weight of Love, 1995) chooses a genre—adolescent coming of age—that as book editor he must have seen in an excess beyond measure. To his credit, though, albeit amid many an echo of Wolfe, Fitzgerald, Knowles, and Salinger, he turns his version of the far too oft-told tale into a readable pleasure. Paul Werth goes to Highgate, a prep school just north of Manhattan, where many of his classmates live, though he himself is from ``the suburb'' where the school is located. Paul is a sophomore, in the spring of 1962, a time, Herman announces, ``when boys still wore their hair short and the United States was not at war in Vietnam and America had not yet heard of drugs or rebellion or failure. . . . `' Maybe so, but drugs are still one of the twin mainsprings making Herman's plot go round: Somebody is selling inside the school, and the headmaster is going to find out who. How could thoughtful, introspective Paul, a subtle thinker and omnivorous reader, conceivably be involved? Well, the second mainspring is that Paul's father died just 14 months before the book's opening—an event that plunged Paul not only into girl trouble, homework trouble, and a hitting slump in baseball, but into wondering whether life might be ``literally without meaning.'' He really could be drug-involved, in other words, not to mention that he's also friends with the devilishly cavalier Philip Richards, a character suspicious indeed. During the raveling of Paul's classically expectable fate, Herman is at his Fitzgeraldian best in describing parties, people's looks, the smells and feels of places—and the past. Very possibly best and truest in the book—and saddest—is Paul's passionate, long-ago, grade-school love affair with little Cassandra, who only too soon. . . . But let that stay unsaid. Herman has grown since his first book. Even working against the pitfalls of a wildly overused genre, he's able to bring in light, color, feeling, and life.

Pub Date: May 6, 1997

ISBN: 0-385-48318-X

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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