A debut novel that transforms the terror of working-class, inner-city race relations into an upbeat examination of love, loss, and father-son bonding. Set in Baltimore, Hond’s appraisal of the cultural and economic barriers that isolate blacks and Jews recalls the bitter urban tragedies of Dreiser and Malamud. Mickey Lerner, a robust, sixtysomething Jewish bakery store owner, is alienated from his wife, Emi, a French-born concert violinist who no longer sees in him the integrity that once attracted her. Meanwhile, their 18-year-old underachieving son, Ben, spends most of his time smoking dope with Nelson Childs, the bakery’s delivery boy, who just bought his first illegal handgun from a street-corner junkie. After a hundred pages of meandering flashbacks, often ending in alleys as dark as the decaying neighborhoods that Hond clearly loves, we learn that Mickey, at Ben’s age, coulda-been-a-contenda as a boxer, but gave it up to run the store after his baker father died of a heart attack; that Mickey’s last bout was against Nelson’s father, who eventually abandoned his family; and that Mickey has harbored an earthy but unconsummated sexual attraction for Donna, Nelson’s mother, ever since. The story takes off when Mickey and Emi are robbed on the street by a pair of masked black youths, one of whom panics and kills Emi. At first, the tragedy makes everything worse: Grief-stricken Mickey takes off for Paris in search of secrets in his wife’s past, leaving Ben in charge of the bakery. And as a boss, Ben can’t cope with Nelson, who buckles under the humiliating treatment he gets from bigoted customers and falls in with his criminal buddies. Fortunately, though, Hond wisely doesn’t let his tale lurch to a violent climax but, instead, lets his characters find each other again as they uncover their hidden strengths. A bright Beaujolais of a book: fresh, optimistic, and sophisticated enough to satisfy on many levels.

Pub Date: April 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-679-45673-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1998

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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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