A misfire, but interesting for its realistic understanding of the goals we set for ourselves and the survival skills that...


A thrice-divorced theology teacher wrestles with her own and others’ human weaknesses in this earnest successor to the Wisconsin author’s highly praised debut, The Cloud Atlas (2004).

Described by its narrator, 50-year-old Emily Hamilton, as “part mystery and part love story,” it’s an amalgam of confessions and memories that record her variously inchoate or unsatisfactory marriages; experiences explaining the lives of saints and martyrs to students at a California Catholic high school; and complicated relationships with three of her students and with her colleague and department chairman Father Martin Dimanche. Handsome teenager Edgar awakens the not-quite-slumbering physical woman within her, sparking an intimacy that perplexes him and sends her into spasms of guilt. Withdrawn Paul, unsure of either whom to love or how to love, appears to struggle just beyond her reach. And shy, gentle Cecily impulsively recapitulates Emily’s own romantic blunders, paying an even more painful price for her naïveté. This is Minnesota novelist Jon Hassler’s turf, and Callanan enters it confidently, fashioning a persuasive enveloping context of both academic routine and skillfully absorbed information from church history, which is never less than relevant to his characters’ experiences, and often stunningly insightful. Unfortunately, the plot is trite and melodramatic, overloaded with tears, recriminations, diseases and deaths. Its saving graces are Emily’s often ruthless intellectual honesty and the abrasively blunt exchanges between her and Dimanche, who has seen enough of both sanctity and sin. The author presents both characters as worldly, flawed souls who have no illusions about the attainment of spiritual perfection or the consolations of religion (e.g., “God loves a sinner. . . . Yeah. He talks a good game”).

A misfire, but interesting for its realistic understanding of the goals we set for ourselves and the survival skills that enable us to live with our failures.

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 2007

ISBN: 0-385-33696-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2006

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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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