Immensely readable, if occasionally flat. Wolitzer is best when she stirs the pot of familial and generational tensions.


In Wolitzer’s slyly comic sixth, a couple publishes Pleasuring: One Couple’s Journey to Fulfillment, with illustrations of the authors in various positions including the gymnastic “Electric Forgiveness,” “a wonderful way to achieve climax quickly and lovingly after a scene of anger or stress.”

Things begin in November 1975 when Roz and Paul Mellow’s four children—teenagers Holly and Michael and their siblings Dashiell, eight, and Claudia, six—go through their parents’ book together in the family den in suburban Wontauket. Their “orchestra seats for the primal scene” ensure that none of them will be the same. Weaving together the stories of the four and their now-divorced parents, Wolitzer (The Wife, 2003, etc.) covers a wide swath of pop culture, from Claudia’s fascination with troll dolls to Dashiell’s discovery that he’s gay (and Republican), Michael’s antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction, and the downward trajectory of Holly, the oldest, who, after decades of drug-taking, emerges miraculously as a still attractive fortysomething nursing mother unwilling to deal with her family except from a distance. The thirtieth anniversary reissue of Pleasuring brings the family back into conflict. Roz, remarried and teaching at Skidmore, is all for it, wanting the attention and the royalties. Paul, retired in Florida with a long-suffering second wife, resists. We learn that Paul was originally Roz’s psychoanalyst (he was ousted from the profession) and that Roz left Paul for the illustrator of Pleasuring, who sketched the two for months and then declared his love. While Michael tries to convince his father to go along with the deal, his lover Thea plays Dora in a play based on the Freudian case study and starts an affair with her female costar; Dashiell gets Hodgkin’s and needs a stem-cell transplant; and Claudia meets David Gupta, whose parents live in her old house, and begins her first true love affair.

Immensely readable, if occasionally flat. Wolitzer is best when she stirs the pot of familial and generational tensions.

Pub Date: March 8, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-6178-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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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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