Pieced together from terse vignettes and enlivened with a liberal scattering of exclamation points, the novel teeters...

WITTGENSTEIN JR

An enigmatic young philosophy lecturer infuriates, intrigues and ultimately beguiles his Cambridge University students in this droll love story about logic and learning from Iyer (Philosophy/Newcastle Univ.; Exodus, 2013, etc.).

Wittgenstein Jr. is the name they give him. Their choice is inspired more by his dress and manner than his looks or accent, but like his namesake, he's obsessed with logic. He’s also brilliant, and as he strives to instil philosophical thought in them, they struggle to keep up. “His classes are just a series of remarks, separated by silences. Ideas, in haiku-like sentences, full of delicate beauty and concision,” notes the narrator, Peters, as their meanings whizz over his head. Peters is a final-year undergraduate, and he sets a spry tone as he chronicles his classmates’ extracurricular high jinks, which are fueled by a fear of life after graduation and a stupefying quantity of booze and pharmaceuticals. (Preparing for a toga party, they down something called a Black Zombie, made of vodka, gin, tequila, Bacardi, pastis and Coke.) Meanwhile, Cambridge is depicted as a shell of its historical self, desiccated by bureaucracy and posh boys with no real intellectual zeal. Iyer’s is also a Cambridge with markedly little room for women, though this detail goes curiously uncommented upon. As the product of a modest home in Northern England, Peters doesn’t quite belong, and maybe that’s why Wittgenstein eventually reaches out to him, drawing him closer than he ought. The lecturer’s obsession with logic turns out to be rooted in a family tragedy that threatens to engulf him; in striving to save him, Peters learns a very adult lesson about what it means to love. 

Pieced together from terse vignettes and enlivened with a liberal scattering of exclamation points, the novel teeters between exaggerated gloom and moments of true tenderness. Existential angst is rarely this entertaining.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61219-376-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

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.

FRIENDS FOREVER

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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