SaFranko (Lounge Lizard, 2007, etc.) has a talent for two-fisted, Bukowski-esque prose, but he needs a story more worthy of...



A couple’s torrid affair slowly hits the skids over money, sex and art.

The novel stars narrator Max Zajack, who’s struggling to balance go-nowhere jobs with an ambition to write great fiction in the lover-and-fighter mode of Norman Mailer and Henry Miller. (The book includes a praise-soaked introduction by Dan Fante, another member of that tribe.) Max is living in a decrepit New Jersey apartment and loading trucks for a living when, one night after playing guitar in a coffee shop, he meets Olivia, an attractive literature student. Their connection is almost immediate, though their relationship is more about sex than anything else—in the early pages SaFranko’s prose is enthusiastically profane, capturing the hunger the two have for each other’s bodies. Max moves into Olivia’s apartment not long after, but it’s soon clear that Olivia has bigger issues than he can handle: She quits her classes in a fit of pique, spends money she doesn’t have on expensive clothes and is prone to screaming fits and threats that she’ll do herself in. As Olivia’s erratic behavior endangers the couple, Max struggles to find work, and many of the most entertaining set pieces have more to do with his day-job frustrations than with the titular character. Max’s gigs involve doing practically nothing at AT&T and delivering newspapers to wealthy New Jersey suburbanites, jobs that heighten the novel’s man-versus-Middle-America theme. As a narrator Max is engaging, funny and full of straight-talk, and his novel-in-progress is meant to push back against the complacency he witnesses daily. But while Max feels full-blooded, Olivia is largely a bundle of ever-escalating rage. There’s little effort to identify the root causes of her actions (scenes describing her troubled relationship with her parents are thin), so the final chapters of the novel take on a repetitive feel: Olivia does something flighty, Max attempts to reason with her, Olivia explodes. Eventually the squabbles sap the novel’s power—it, like the relationship it describes, has gone on for too long.

SaFranko (Lounge Lizard, 2007, etc.) has a talent for two-fisted, Bukowski-esque prose, but he needs a story more worthy of it.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-06-197919-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2010

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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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