A psychologically acute but long-winded tale of trauma and redemption.



A Utah boy who survives horrific child sexual abuse fails to put it behind him as he matures into a brilliant, caustic, verbose teenager in this debut coming-of-age novel.

Growing up in Salt Lake City in the 1960s and ’70s, Owen Langley’s life is a Dickensian nightmare. The offspring of his mother’s rape by a stranger, the 5-year-old Owen is beaten and starved by his mom and her husband. After they commit suicide, Owen falls into the clutches of a ghoulish foster couple and is kept in the basement and regularly raped by the husband. An intervention and another suicide later, he’s adopted by the kindly James and Jean Crowley. But when James drops dead and Jean enters a mental institution, Owen winds up in the custody of the couple’s housekeeper, Mrs. Windom, who locks him in the basement for two weeks on a shredded wheat–and-water diet. First grade is a further ordeal of bullying and ostracism that’s worsened by Owen’s bookishness and Victorian rhetoric. (How a 6-year-old Utah kid learned to say “I won’t let you soil my parents’ good name” isn’t explored.) The sprawling tale then skips ahead to ninth grade, when Owen’s toffish grandiloquence effloresces. At one point, he tells a school bully: “You have not changed any over the summer, Wayne….Rather like a tedious ostinato, aren’t you? Or a birth defect—tiresome, monotonous, ineradicable.” The high school girls love that talk, and Owen is soon going steady with queen bee Roxanne Solleveld, whose family has its own backstory of molestation, murder, and suicide. Owen’s implausible maturity and thoughtfulness make him a big man on campus whom students and teachers alike turn to for counseling. Alas, his humane acceptance of gay students runs afoul of homophobic bullies, leading to yet more sexual assault and suicide. Walters’ melodrama and his prose style are dominated by Owen’s voice, which energizes the ambitious novel. He’s a complex, magnetic character, and the author skillfully dissects Owen’s inner turmoil as he deploys his arrogant intellect to cover up his insecurities and ward off the emotional connections he fears and craves. Unfortunately, 654 pages of the protagonist’s bombast, know-it-all-ism, and speechifying start to suck the air out of the story—one funeral oration drones on for four pages—especially because his incessant Wilde-an snark lacks Wilde’s wit. The result is a hero whom readers may not care about.

A psychologically acute but long-winded tale of trauma and redemption.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64228-032-6

Page Count: 668

Publisher: Izzard Ink

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2020

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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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