A promising first collection of stories in English by recent Russian ÇmigrÇ Iossel that together form an impressionistic picture of growing up in an increasingly cynical and malfunctioning Soviet Union. ``Beyond the Pale'' introduces the narrator, young Jewish dissenter Yevgheny Litovtsev, or Zheka, living in Leningrad and forced to do demeaning jobs while he struggles to write. In the title story, he recalls his reactions to Yuri Gagarin's space flight, when those ``who were squeezed to death in the happy crowd of Gagarin's great victory were happier than they were ever likely to be if they kept on living.'' These thoughts are expanded on through Yevgheny's bittersweet memories of gathering mushrooms in the countryside as a six-year-old, when all things were possible and ``Russia was joyous and looked eternal beyond the window.'' Each subsequent story chronicles the character's growing disillusionment with the system, itself deteriorating but nonetheless intrusive and punitive. He unwittingly humiliates his loyal communist grandfather (``Red Square'') by loudly accusing him of not really loving Lenin; then spends a feckless college summer as a train conductor (``Wings''), and, later, in ``Bolgoye'' (chosen for the Best American Short Stories 1991), recalls the emotionally confused days before he was finally granted an exit visa. The last piece (``Insomnia'') is a claustrophobic but affecting chronicle of what happens to a writer who's suddenly thrust into an alien culture where his talents are worthless. Like Nabokov, Iossel has brilliantly mastered English, but these stories, accomplished as they are, are marred by the ever- present narrator, whose legitimately intense emotions and responses need some leavening, some other perspective. Still, a notable debut.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1991

ISBN: 0-393-02985-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1991

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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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