An earnest novel about one man’s personal transformation during a decade of political change.



A historical novel of race, love, and destiny set in a tumultuous 1960s America.

It’s the summer of 1960 and Royal Finley is a black graduate student at the University of Chicago. His friend and fellow student Rodney Johnson, who’s also black, is sympathetic to the Black Nationalist movement—Malcolm X makes a cameo in the opening pages, which leads to a conversation between him and Royal—while Royal adheres to a more individualistic conception of human freedom, telling his friend: “It’ll take more than laws to make us free.” Royal is also sexually impotent—in contrast to the philandering Rodney—and his anxieties about this undercut much of the novel. He develops a relationship with Nadine Miles, a white graduate student who studies African history. Their story is set against the backdrop of the civil rights struggles of the ’60s, encompassing African nationalism, miscegenation laws, and the Freedom Riders. In Indianapolis, Royal experiences a tense exchange with Nadine’s family over their relationship. Questions of race and desire—and how the two are intertwined—loom large for Royal, who, by the end of the book, ends up advising Lyndon Johnson on school integration. The book’s sense of history feels authentic—true to the “combination of fact and fiction” that Cheek references in the preface. Near the middle of the book, the author portrays Royal looking “intensely into his soul,” where he sees “confusing images of his obscure and vague sense of ethnicity.” This is the novel’s central theme, as Royal’s rise to the heights of the civil rights movement offers an effective portrait in miniature of the decade’s political transformation. Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of this book is how it interweaves the biographical and the historical as the protagonist searches for authenticity, finding himself repeatedly “returning to his ethnic roots to reexamine his life’s quilt.” The book’s spiritual tone and stilted prose may alienate some readers, though, as in lines such as “they embraced and shared the nectar of their individual souls.”

An earnest novel about one man’s personal transformation during a decade of political change.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9988635-0-4

Page Count: 558

Publisher: QuarticPress

Review Posted Online: May 16, 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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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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