A Balm in Gilead

In this debut novel, McKeon traces a young woman’s post-traumatic stress disorder.

After being raped on her Pennsylvania college campus, Quinn Carlisle testifies at her attacker’s trial. Although he’s convicted, he’s mysteriously set free. Sometimes, Carlisle tells her tale to anyone who will listen; at other times, she can’t bring herself to talk about it, even with a girl who was recently raped herself. She thinks that her guilt and anxiety are under control for nearly a decade; one day, however, she leaves her boyfriend to strike out on her own. In her new apartment in Maryland, she meets Joe Armstrong, a helpful man who will go on to play a pivotal role in her life. The trauma continues to haunt her, however, until the murder of a woman in another state forces her to again confront her assailant and her own fragile psyche. While watching the news one night, Carlisle sees a story about a woman found murdered in a state park. She has the same word carved in her arm (“NOTHING”) as Carlisle’s assailant carved into hers. At the same time, she receives an ominous phone call that could well be Dennis Price, the man who raped her. Armstrong convinces her to go to the police, but when they seem disinterested, he and Carlisle start playing detective themselves. This well-plotted tale, written in a seemingly effortless style, initially seems to be a chronicle of Carlisle’s PTSD, but it slowly blossoms into a complex crime drama with an array of fascinating characters. McKeon alternates between the 1987 rape and the late ’90s, slowly fleshing out the incident and the details of Carlisle’s current life. She then introduces more characters that Carlisle doesn’t know. A man named Billy O’Brien, for instance, is shown drinking himself to death in a sleazy hotel room when he learns that the case of his brother’s murder is being reopened because the judge was found to be on the take; before long, his life intertwines with Carlisle’s. This fine novel will keep readers guessing—even about the good guys’ motives.

Fans of crime fiction, mysteries and psychological thrillers will love this tightly written portrayal of PTSD and redemption.

Pub Date: July 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0990433828

Page Count: 326

Publisher: White Bird Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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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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