A first novel by the already much-praised Cohen (Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World, 1993; Glass, Paper, Beans, 1996) stuns with its lean, unadorned artistry as it limns the tale of two preadolescent sisters in their search for the truth about their parents' death, their own past, and the connection that binds them together. Tilly and Mole's parents drowned in the Kittiwake River one stormy night while trying to rescue a boatload of partygoers—or at least that's how the story goes. Now, 11-year-old Mole (real name Martha) and the prettier 12-year-old Tilly have spent the nine years since their parents' death embroidering on this sparse family legend—imbuing their mother and father with invented personalities, passions, and tragic flaws that their guardian, Aunt Hy, and their small-town neighbors have neglected to provide. Over time, Mole has come to consider this story of death the sisters' greatest treasure, and she's outraged when Tilly casually uses it to impress a city boy whose family is vacationing on the lake. The family, renting a house from Aunt Hy for the summer, is headed by a pair of scientists whose marital troubles cast a shadow on Mole and Tilly as well as on their own four children. As Tilly is drawn ever deeper into the vortex of this troubled clan, Mole deals with Tilly's abrupt abandonment of her in exchange for romance by painstakingly collecting clues to the true story of her parents' lives, hoarding and treasuring each shiny bit of information as a potential tool to bring her sister back to her—and to rescue her from the perilous brink of adolescence. Cohen's taut, unsentimental prose brilliantly evokes Mole's strange imaginary world. A radiant coming-of-age story in which every character rings true. (First printing of 25,000)

Pub Date: July 11, 1997

ISBN: 0-380-97468-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1997

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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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