A cleareyed and adeptly composed investigation of a marriage.


A devastating fire causes a couple in crisis to look back over their long marriage in Golan’s (Where Things Are When You Lose Them, 2008, etc.) literary novel.

Rob and Amy Lerner are sitting in their favorite restaurant deciding to get divorced while, a few blocks away, their house burns to the ground. The fire destroys Amy’s painting studio and all of her art; Rob’s home office and all the material related to his import business; and every object, photograph, and heirloom that they owned. The couple is left staring at the rubble of their lives “like the body of a loved one under a sheet. The house was like that, a lost loved one.” The two met many years earlier in New York City, where Amy, then named Geller, was a promising—if unconfident—artist, and Rob worked as a Yeshiva teacher to avoid a military draft. At the time, Rob identified Amy with Lilith—the first wife of Adam who wouldn’t submit to his dominion, who’s sometimes interpreted as a demon and stealer of children: “To Rob Lerner [Lilith] was simply the woman you will never tire of, never look at without lust, who will never lose her mystery, the woman who will make you whole.” The couple’s relationship was always combustive, however, and even after they marry, find financial success, and raise a son, Marco, the couple is haunted by events from their pasts—Amy’s brother Mickey’s death and the traumas of Rob’s Holocaust-survivor father, Sol. The novel reviews their rocky relationship and asks where, exactly, it all went wrong. Also, how did the fire, which punctuated their dissolution, start? And what does Rob’s identification of Amy with Lilith—whom Sol claims to have seen in a Polish orchard during the war—say about the couple? Golan’s prose is exact and insightful and full of lines that encapsulate the particular deficiencies of the Lerners’ marriage: “They had grown over the years to dislike each other with a passion that would have been admirable, perhaps breathtakingly beautiful, had it been love.” He constructs the characters of Rob and Amy in a deliberate manner and with great attention to detail. With incredible specificity, the author manages to present an affecting and recognizable portrait of coupledom, and as the storylines grow, their thorny lives become more deeply intertwined. Amy, in particular, is a fully imagined being—knowable when the reader takes her side and completely mysterious when the reader aligns with Rob. The Judaica in the story’s background lends it a slightly mystical mood, and it infuses the proceedings with a grim sense of inevitability. The book does drag in some places, and the reader may be forgiven for wanting to get back to the present-day plotline before realizing that the past is the main story. That said, Golan’s skillful and compelling character work is enough to keep the readers wondering, as Rob and Amy do, about the impossibility of happiness and the meaning of love.

A cleareyed and adeptly composed investigation of a marriage.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-951214-49-4

Page Count: 284

Publisher: Adelaide Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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