An intense book for those who love a literary puzzle—difficult to read but equally difficult to forget.


A motley assemblage of oddballs, frat boys, and pharmacological explorers delve deeply into love, sex, drugs, and philosophy in this debut novel.

Ostensibly, this novel tells the story of Stranger, a lovesick, drunken, acid-freak college student, but author Schmeling takes the device of interior monologue to a new level, continually escaping the confines of simple narrative in the service of puns, wordplay, ontology, epistemology, name-dropping, polemics, and all-out, guns-blazing alliteration: “The film flickered in flits and flashes of fabulous light.” As a big-man-on-campus fraternity brother, Stranger swaggers appropriately, but he’s really using alcohol, sex (he admits that he’s never had sex sober), drugs, and Homeric bull sessions with fellow misfits Jester, Dudemeister, and Variable to mask his innate insecurity and anxiety. He lives in a generic frat house at an unnamed school, where people continually come and go, absorbing booze, psychedelics, and assorted other drugs—sometimes passing out, sometimes vomiting. All the while, the characters hold forth on topics from the intellectual to the inane before exiting to carry on their merry-prankster existences elsewhere. Stranger is shown to be ambivalent about his place in the world, partially due to the fact that he comes from a mixed-race background. His love for Gunny, a woman with a fragile psyche who’s involved with another man, develops as the two find that they can honestly communicate with each other. Gunny reveals to Stranger that she cuts herself, and after a good deal of procrastination, he reveals his feelings for her. For Gunny, however, the relationship will always be platonic, which causes Stranger to vacillate between hostility and submissiveness. Readers will need to break out their dictionaries, Who’s Whos, books on history, philosophy, and political science, and any other reference materials they can get their hands on for this dense, stream-of-consciousness, James Joyce–meets–William S. Burroughs roller-coaster ride. There isn’t much plot, but like Honoré de Balzac, Schmeling seems to know everything there is to know about every subject he touches on; he has no trouble expounding at length on diverse fields from anthropology to zoology. His digressions, which effectively comprise the bulk of the book, sound off on a wide range of subjects, including popular music, race relations, Trumpism, romantic love, animal rights, economics, drug use, and the far reaches of the multiverse. The author’s way with words is witty, wild, subtle, and sonorous, with nearly every sentence seeming to blast references like shrapnel in all directions. His numerous bons mots are clever and insightful: “Secrets. We tell them when we have the feeling someone already knows.” Schmeling makes skillful use of allusion, as in this biblical reference: “whole crowds devouring red herrings and loaves, but return to the people what is the people’s.” He also uses offbeat literary devices, including an interesting trick to emphasize his words and slow his readers down: “That. She. Accused. One. Of. The. Warrior’s. Brothers. Too. Maybe. He. Did. It.”

An intense book for those who love a literary puzzle—difficult to read but equally difficult to forget.

Pub Date: July 30, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-387-11645-4

Page Count: 442

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2018

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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 steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.


From the Briar U series

In this opener to Kennedy’s (Hot & Bothered, 2017, etc.) Briar U romance series, two likable students keep getting their signals crossed.

Twenty-one-year-old Summer Heyward-Di Laurentis is expelled from Brown University in the middle of her junior year because she was responsible for a fire at the Kappa Beta Nu sorority house. Fortunately, her father has connections, so she’s now enrolled in Briar University, a prestigious institution about an hour outside Boston. But as she’s about to move into Briar’s Kappa Beta Nu house, she’s asked to leave by the sisters, who don’t want her besmirching their reputation. Her older brother Dean, who’s a former Briar hockey star, comes to her rescue; his buddies, who are still on the hockey team, need a fourth roommate for their townhouse. Three good-looking hockey jocks and a very rich, gorgeous fashion major under the same roof—what could go wrong? Summer becomes quickly infatuated with one of her housemates: Dean’s best friend Colin “Fitzy” Fitzgerald. There’s a definite spark between them, and they exchange smoldering looks, but the tattooed Fitzy, who’s also a video game reviewer and designer, is an introvert who prefers no “drama” in his life. Summer, however, is a charming extrovert, although she has an inferiority complex about her flagging scholastic acumen. As the story goes on, the pair seem to misinterpret each other’s every move. Meanwhile, another roommate and potential suitor, Hunter Davenport, is waiting in the wings. Kennedy’s novel is full of sex, alcohol, and college-level profanity, but it never becomes formulaic. The author adroitly employs snappy dialogue, steady pacing, and humor, as in a scene at a runway fashion show featuring Briar jocks parading in Summer-designed swimwear. The book also manages to touch on some serious subjects, including learning disabilities and abusive behavior by faculty members. Summer and Fitzy’s repeated stumbles propel the plot through engaging twists and turns; the characters trade off narrating the story, which gives each of them a chance to reveal some substance.

A steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.    

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72482-199-7

Page Count: 372

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2019

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