Roth's last three novels—The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, The Anatomy Lesson—have all dealt with the adventures, the headaches and neckaches, the ancestral burdens and complaints of novelist Nathan Zuckerman; here these three books are reprinted in full, then capped by a new, 83-page epilogue, "The Prague Orgy." Zuckerman is now visited by a pathetic pair of Czech emigres: they've come to flatter him and simultaneously to make him feel wretchedly un-beleaguered; they tell him about a manuscript by the father of one of the emigres—a book of stories, in Yiddish, more keenly alienated than Kafka, utterly saturated with the poetry of Jewish dispossession. The problem, however, is that this manuscript is in the possession of the man's vindictive ex-wife. So Zuckerman, up to any challenge if it's self-compromising enough, goes to Prague; he meets the ex-wife; he rejects her advances. (The sexual atmospheres have a kind of grey hysteria that even Zuckerman considers better left alone.) Finally he is given the manuscript of the stories. But, though written in Yiddish, the stories seem unreadable to Zuckerman. Furthermore, the state police arrive to confiscate the manuscript and rush Zuckerman to the airport—hectoring him all the way, charging him with hypocrisy. (The Czechs point to American censorship of great literature: e.g., the case of Betty MacDonald, author of The Egg and I, a "masterpiece" as far as these culture cops are concerned.) And so Zuckerman's trip is a complete folly—while his haplessnesss becomes the theme of the epilogue, of perhaps the whole trilogy: "That such things can happen—there's the moral of the stories—that such things happen to me, to him, to her, to you, to us. That is the national anthem of the Jewish homeland. By all rights, when you hear someone there begin telling a story—when you see the Jewish faces mastering anxiety and feigning innocence and registering astonishment at their own fortitude—you ought to stand and put your hand to your heart." A slight addition to the Zuckerman epic, then, but one that throws the work's Jewish themes into some strong relief.

Pub Date: June 1, 1985

ISBN: 0099515113

Page Count: 568

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1985

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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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