Despite minor flaws (sometimes overreaching, Pouncey tends to push his points too hard, and David’s pivotal decision to...


A strong debut about a dying historian—from the 67-year-old former president of Amherst College.

Robert MacIver is an 80-year-old war historian, a proud Scot long resident stateside, dying slowly and alone in an ancient house in the woods on Cape Cod. His beloved wife, Margaret, has died recently in the same house, and MacIver sees no reason to linger. He is not, as the famous Dylan Thomas poem has it, raging against his going, but neither is he going gentle, though rage and gentleness are the novel’s key concepts. Instead, he chooses a middle way, an orderly departure. Alarmed by visions clouding his mind, he takes himself in hand, fixing regular meals; he also embarks on a short story, containing through art the rage that grips him at the loss of loved ones. MacIver’s creation is deftly interwoven with highlights of his own life: the death of his father in WWI (his first great loss); his success as a rugby player and academic; his meeting Margaret, an accomplished painter, in New York; his blissful life with her and their only child, David; David’s early death after serving as a medic in Vietnam (his second great loss); MacIver’s subsequent marriage-threatening rages; and then the return of calm and marital happiness. A constant theme is MacIver’s violent nature and the antidote of Margaret’s gentleness. In his short story, MacIver envisions a drama played out between four soldiers in the WWI trenches. One, a good soldier but a psychopath, murders his commanding officer; that murder is avenged by a private, an outstanding artist stirred to his own murderous rage. Completion of the story eases MacIver’s path to death.

Despite minor flaws (sometimes overreaching, Pouncey tends to push his points too hard, and David’s pivotal decision to volunteer feels manufactured), this has a power and piquant unexpectedness that raise it far above the general run of first novels.

Pub Date: April 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-6370-1

Page Count: 230

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2005

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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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