The novel holds together surprisingly well considering the unusual genesis and process.



A novel that was created by the author in response to a selection of images taken by five photographers from around the country.

A fascinating endeavor, documented at, this is the book version of a project that has also been presented as a multimedia installation at an art gallery and in addition might become a film. Rock, a novelist (The Shelter Cycle, 2013, etc.), wrote to five different photographers asking them to send him images, then spun his own characters and plot from the connections he made among them. Parts of what results can seem like dreams, fantasies, fairy tales, or hallucinations, though the plotline itself is fairly clear and straightforward. Alex and Sonja, who have known each other since second grade, have arrived at an age of sexual awakening. Or at least Alex has, as he confesses his desire for Sonja to her friend Naomi, who lives in the house where her grandmother recently died. Sonja seems to feel drawn to Naomi more than she is to Alex. So, there is that triangle of relationships, interrupted by two strange occurrences—an older man in a suit becomes obsessed with Naomi, after dreaming about this young woman he had yet to encounter in life, and he confesses to Alex that he's been stalking her. (The man also carries on a conversation with a stranger via notes exchanged by carrier pigeon.) And Naomi’s grandmother has decreed in her will that Naomi will take a voyage to who knows where for who knows how long, leaving Alex and Sonja to share the house she has left. There is also an “I” who may not necessarily represent the author, a “you” who stands for Naomi, and a pair of bears who may or may not exist beyond the minds and fears of some characters but whose images have been captured on film. “The images are not merely illustrations for a pre-existent story, then, but the conditions and possibilities and limitations of how the storytelling preceded,” the author explains in “A Preface of a Sort.” “The images came first. One way to think of it is that the stories herein, and the larger story they become, were already embedded in the photographs.”

The novel holds together surprisingly well considering the unusual genesis and process.

Pub Date: May 9, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61902-900-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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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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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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