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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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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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