An unlikable lead character undercuts a story at times rich with fine observations on familial and marital relationships.


Memoirist Mori (Polite Lies, 1998, etc.) offers her first adult novel, a meditative though not very sympathetic look at one woman’s journey in reconciling her lonely childhood with the bleak present she has created for herself.

When Maya receives a parcel from Japan, she knows without opening it that her father has died. Having last seen him when she was ten, before she went to Milwaukee to be raised by her Americanized mother and stepfather, Maya has had no contact with him since, only forlorn dreams about him and his art. With notice of his death, memories of the short time she and he spent together, and the senselessness of their sustained separation, fuel Maya’s examination of her life thus far: at 34, she weaves textiles of her own design (having long lost the desire that sent her to art school, to paint) while maintaining a tepid relationship with her husband. In her quest for solitude and silence, she alienates him, then wonders why they have trouble connecting. The story’s one nurturing relationship belongs to Maya and her girlhood friend Yuko, offering an endearing example of platonic love: it’s this friendship that sustains Maya as her marriage falls apart, more from atrophy than disagreement. Just when the reader is convinced that Maya is made of stone, she meets Eric, a painter, and the two begin an ardent affair—until Maya finally sends him away so she can retreat into her comforting, far safer world of isolation. Will Maya allow herself love and call Eric back? Or will she stubbornly cling to a passionless life, as a sort of tribute to her father’s solitary and committed existence as an artist? Either way, the lack of empathy for Maya creates a novel that’s lyrical in its reserve while at the same time frustratingly pallid.

An unlikable lead character undercuts a story at times rich with fine observations on familial and marital relationships.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2000

ISBN: 0-8050-4080-3

Page Count: 277

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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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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