A punk-rocker of modest renown and a self-styled poet, Hell debuts with a pointless and plotless fiction that lacks either the drug authenticity of a Burroughs or the transgressive aesthetic of an Acker. A junkie's journal, this clumsily written narrative relies on the thinnest of premises: A punk performer named Billy Mud, kept from recording by a record company dispute, is hired to travel cross-country and set down his impressions while his sometime girlfriend takes photos. Despite empty gestures toward literary predecessors (on Baudelaire: ``I identify with him a lot''), Hell, via Mud, mostly poses throughout as a super-studly anti-bourgeois rebel. Mud is so bored (he'd say ``full of ennui'') with his own story that he takes time to describe the physical dimensions of his notebook. And, of course, he describes the new wardrobe he needs if he's to blend in with the normals. Once on the road—no Kerouac he- -he wastes away in motel rooms, planning how to score sex or dope. Luckily, his girlfriend Chrissa is French, so he benefits from the cultural dissonance—i.e., she falls for his tired act. The too- coolly ironic Mud, a self-described ``outlaw,'' detoxes in Reno, but then decides to cop in Denver; he visits his hometown of Lexington, Kentucky, where he and Chrissa bunk with his aunt, whose dirty underwear he sniffs prior to seducing her. When Chrissa catches him with his mother's sister, she catches a plane home: project canceled. Throughout, Mud's stream-of-drug-consciousness writing is laughably incoherent; his observations on drugs equally silly (``Junk is like an orgasm stretched in time''); and his commentary on America revealing of his own limitations (``America feels boring''). As a social critic, Hell sounds more like Paul Simon than Patti Smith. As a writer? Let's just say that rock lyrics aren't poetry, and addled scribbling not a novel. (Author tour)

Pub Date: June 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-684-82234-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1996

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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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