A successful PR associate must come to terms with resurrected high school demons.

On the surface, Olivia Morten’s life seems perfect: she has a rewarding career in which she finely orchestrates celebrities’ public images; an attractive, successful neurosurgeon husband; a dream house; and of course, a flawless body. It’s evident from the beginning of Palmer's (Girl Before a Mirror, 2015, etc.) latest, though, that a shameful secret lurks under this veneer: the memory of what she terms Fat Me, the “forever alone, overly emotional, out-of-control” embodiment of her high school self. Olivia has hidden her past so well that even her husband knows only bits and pieces of the truth, and in the image-obsessed Hollywood bubble in which Olivia works, it’s vital that she never let herself slip. But a chance encounter with her high school crush (and tormentor), Ben Dunn, at a coffee shop inconveniently brings Fat Me to the forefront of her consciousness. And when the perfect volunteer opportunity for salvaging a celebrity client’s reputation arises—at a Halloween Fair for foster children in the high school at which Ben is now principal—Olivia’s forced deeper yet into her own personal time machine. As the Halloween plans progress (as does the sexual tension with Ben) and her marriage and personal life begin to fracture around her, Olivia is finally compelled to take a hard look at Fat Me and the person she’s become in order to hide her. This leads to an arc of self-realization that’s satisfying but somewhat oversimplified, implying that one can lay years of restrictive eating patterns by the wayside in one sudden burst of self-acceptance. Nonetheless, Palmer develops her characters well—Olivia is complicated, flawed, and reflective, transforming what could have been a flat, superficial novel into one that’s by turns funny, painfully honest, and hard to put down (though descending periodically into clichéd territory). Palmer uses a light touch to broach the subject of female body image, both in Olivia’s mind and as a constant societal background hum—from the crusty baguette eaten only by the men at a dinner party to the way Olivia’s celebrity client must be seated with her back to the restaurant, “to lower the risk of a photo of her putting food in her mouth.” It’s vindicating, then, to watch Olivia rise above the noise, even when it’s as simple as asking for the bread to be passed to her at a dinner party.

Honest and entertaining.

Pub Date: April 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-08347-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...


Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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