An ineffectual tearjerker—and a disappointment after Schwartz’s promising debut (Jumping the Green, 1999).


Feelings run riot as five parents reproach themselves for being bad mommies and daddies.

Front and center is Ethan Denton, a young man in the small, unfashionable mountain town of Angels Crest, California. Ethan is euphoric: He has just gained full custody of his three-year-old son Nate after a bitter divorce from Cindy, his former high-school sweetheart and now a raging alcoholic. The story starts with Ethan driving Nate up the mountain to experience the majesty of Nature. Curiously, the normally dependable Ethan leaves Nate alone in his unlocked car and returns to find him missing. Nate will turn up dead in the snow and Ethan will spend the rest of the novel writhing in remorse. Cindy feels bad, too. Admittedly, this was not her screw-up, but hadn’t she swigged vodka while suckling her baby? Other townspeople with bad family histories are Rocksan and Jane, long-time lesbian partners. Rocksan, the masculine one, has been angry since age six, when her father split; and Jane abandoned her baby, George, putting sexual desire before motherhood. The guilt has gnawed at her for 20 years. Now George shows up with his very pregnant girlfriend Melody, and Jane, passing up opportunities to drive the two to the hospital, calmly delivers the baby and wipes away her guilt. Then there’s Rocksan’s sister Angie, who runs the diner and can’t forgive herself for rushing into a second marriage and alienating her daughter Rachel; she’s making amends by raising Rachel’s abandoned daughter Rosie. Finally, there’s Judge Jack, a kindly old gent up from the city to help search for Nate. Ah, contrivance! Ethan will eventually wind up on Jack’s docket, charged with criminal negligence, but Jack will treat him leniently, for he empathizes with Ethan; the judge has made his own mistakes in raising his son Marty, now an addict and a thief.

An ineffectual tearjerker—and a disappointment after Schwartz’s promising debut (Jumping the Green, 1999).

Pub Date: June 15, 2004

ISBN: 0-385-51185-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2004

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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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