This fourth from the talented Ellmann (Man or Mango?, 1998, etc.) has her usual lists, facts, wicked humor, and violent charm—but not cohesion enough to bring it all together.

Our Dot is indeed an insignificant dot in the universe. Though happily MARRIED to John Buster (she’d probably be LESS happy if she knew he wasn’t a fishermen gone to sea weeks at a time, but a philandering husband with a JOB as a school counselor and a string of girlfriends), she is beginning to question what it’s all FOR. After a quick decision that it’s all for NOUGHT, she attempts suicide (just after she hits a little boy mistaken for a traffic cone), but, as the chosen tea cozy proves an inappropriate noose, Dot lives to see another day. This extra time allows her to kill a few irritating old ladies (why, they’re EVERYWHERE!) before she finally succumbs a few years later by JUMPING off a bridge. Unfortunately, Dot is still a dot in the universe, only now it’s the underworld. Given a tour to make Dante proud, Dot is ESCORTED through the various territories by none other than Dot’s favorite TV home décor maven, Belinda Lurcher (who fixes up the place on the way through). After some bureaucratic WRANGLING, Dot is next in line for reincarnation, and, lo and behold, she enters life again as a newly born opossum. But with vivisection what it is, Dot soon finds herself AGAIN in the underworld, this time prepared to check HUMAN on the required reentry form. Her next life is far more SATISFACTORY but holds a number of surprising similarities to the last two, including an end that seems an AWFUL lot like the beginning. Dot, not existing in three-dimensions, doesn’t provide Ellmann’s wry and raunchy humor with the stable foundation it needs. Jokes, facts, keen observations—and MUCH emphasis through capitalization—are reduced to gimmicks in the presence of this ambivalent heroine.

Clever, smart—and thin.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2004

ISBN: 1-58234-351-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


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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