Broad, cautionary anti-gun SF (sort of a Fahrenheit .451 Caliber); plays best to the already converted.


In Roberts’ dystopian novel, a diplomat in a North America of the far future explores a pariah continent, where descendants of the defunct U.S. concentrate their stern religious faith around firearms and death. 

Debut author Roberts’ SF volley against America’s obsession with guns and the Second Amendment happens in the 2600s. Ex–North America is a “backwater where no one goes,” little remembered and unmourned. What’s left are scattered communities with electricity, industry, running water, crops, and trade but no national cohesion or ties to the outside world. The rest of the planet has advanced to a cosmopolitan civilization from which diplomat Ishwar Dhoni, punished for a personal indiscretion, is exiled. He is reassigned to an American coastal fortress maintained by “Earth Administration” in a long-standing quarantine. The narrative—split between Ishwar’s debriefings and the rustic inhabitants of a certain Paradise Valley—informs readers that toxic U.S. gun mania ran riot in the 21st century, with weapons lobbyists and ultraconservatives subverting Congress, stifling the media, and arming militias. School shootings became routine, and armed gangs, flaunting their firepower, raided and robbed until even the U.S. government (relocated to Salt Lake City) fell. Once special commandos of the unified Earth extinguished America’s nuclear arsenal in surgical raids, the rest of humanity shunned the continent. Now its villages worship “Nar,” an Aryan-blond messiah said to have brought guns directly from God in heaven, and random schoolchildren are massacred in a “Shady Hook” festival. Ishwar and a history-minded cohort/lover investigate, among other things, a cult’s murky origins in the family of the last U.S. president, who was named...Heston. That’s one of the few outwardly humorous touches in an otherwise sober narrative that treats the outrageous premise in deadpan The Handmaid’s Tale manner (though Roberts is cheeky enough to include himself as one of the few future academics to comment on the gun-pocalypse). Some juicy targets hit: right-wing populist paranoia and manipulation of history for power’s sake. But repeatedly falling back on a simplistic guns-are-bad theme minus deeper insights into American pathologies makes for a light-caliber attack, much as gun fanaticism well deserves a pistol-whipping. 

Broad, cautionary anti-gun SF (sort of a Fahrenheit .451 Caliber); plays best to the already converted.

Pub Date: April 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4809-9025-8

Page Count: 332

Publisher: Dorrance Pub Co

Review Posted Online: Dec. 4, 2019

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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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