the Limbic Highway


In McInerney’s debut sci-fi novel, the spirit of Benjamin Franklin teaches a young man how to cleanse his neighbors’ psyches of “evil bulges.”
College student Jake undergoes a near-death experience after a local bully drugs his drink. In his subsequent dream, a man named Oswaldo arrives on a “magic-carpet-like platform” to whisk Jake away to purgatory, where none other than Benjamin Franklin is waiting to show him around. McInerney’s overly complex metaphysical netherworld includes guardian angels, who access humans through a “Limbic Highway” to their brains. It turns out that the souls in purgatory, Franklin included, have big plans for Jake in their quest to defeat evil. They plan to use a Mobile Cleansing Unit, or M-C-U (one of the novel’s many acronyms), to eradicate dreaded “evil bulges,” which “evil barbs” create in people’s minds. Franklin shows Jake the ropes on how to destroy the bulges; in future dreams, Jake returns to help the cause, entering his neighbors’ dreams in Magic School Bus–like adventures to clean evil from their neural pools. When Jake isn’t going after evil, however, he lives a sheltered life—one so uneventful that McInerney manages to find space in this short novel for Jake to comment on the weather: “If it is one thing I cannot handle, it’s humidity. There is no solution when you’re in it, except to get out of it.” The novel offers an intriguing take on the afterlife that has potential. However, it suffers from a lack of conflict; it only takes a bit of extra firepower to dispatch the evil bulges, for example, and few characters are developed enough to contain conflicts beyond their supposed moral failings. A teenage girl named Tina, for example, is said to have been “snowed over by her family so often, that she ignores the ramifications of an unplanned pregnancy, and believes that premarital sex is acceptable.” Few passages in the book allow readers to make their own judgments about the characters’ actions, and even fewer attempt to explain its strange mythology.
A compelling idea for a novel that suffers from bizarre worldbuilding, a slight plot and underdeveloped characters.

Pub Date: April 30, 2014

ISBN: 978-0982468500

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Saunal Publishing Inc.

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2014

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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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