Columnist and children's book author Viorst infuses her premiere adult novel with the quicksilver pace, naughty optimism, and heartwarming humor of her bestselling nonfiction (Necessary Losses, 1986, etc.). The novel's premise is wacky: Brenda Kovner, the narrator, 46- -an accomplished hostess, gourmet cook, devoted wife of Jake, a pediatric surgeon, mother of their two grown sons, Jeff and Wally, and a wildly popular nationally syndicated advice columnist- -resolves to murder a somewhat sinister D.C. neighbor named Mr. Monti, who is ``doing harm to my family.'' The reason he's doing harm: His adored youngest daughter Josephine wants to marry Wally, who refuses to convert from Judaism to Catholicism for the occasion. The harm he's doing: As Brenda doggedly discovers, he's been bankrolling a number of baseless malpractice suits against Jake, is laying a plan to entrap greedy elder son Jeff in a bogus real-estate deal for the purpose of bankrupting him, and seems to be planning to have Wally killed on Halloween. Brenda—who's had sex with Mr. Monti once as the third stage of a one-day experiment in the pleasures of adultery after a lifetime if monogamy—first tries to poison him, then nails him (or rather, by mistake, his twin brother) into an airtight closet, and finally hires two muggers she's met while investigating Jeff's real-estate troubles to assassinate him. Nothing works—luckily for Brenda, since it turns out that (a) a psychotic social-work client is the one who's really been trying to kill Wally, and (b) Mr. Monti's wife controls all the family's assets and has no intention of letting Mr. Monti waste them on tormenting the Kovners. Finally, Wally and Josephine- -who's gone through a lesbian phase—marry; Brenda and Jake, whose marriage has been rocky, to say the least, reunite. Facile, funny—Viorst at her best.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-671-76074-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1993

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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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