Preying Hands


A pedophile priest who targets deaf boys leaves a legacy of blighted lives and lost faith in this heavy-handed play.
Part I, set in the 1970s, introduces Father Larry O’Malley, principal of St. John’s School for the Deaf and the star of Milwaukee’s Catholic archdiocese thanks to the warmhearted charisma that makes both students and donors adore him. Unfortunately, O’Malley harnesses that charisma to sexually molest teenage boys in his charge while building a wall of complicit silence among the school’s staff. After a brief, veiled assault scene in 1960, time shifts to 1974, when James Grady and two friends, now in their 20s, discover they were all victimized by O’Malley; they vow to unmask him. When the police shrug off their accusations, and mealy-mouthed church hierarchs stonewall—“just heresy, excuse me, I mean hearsay,” blusters an archbishop—James and his friends go to the media with their accusations. Part II jumps ahead to the early 1990s, with alcoholic James unemployed and still full of rage over the long-ago molestation, his friends leading similarly haunted lives. Convinced that closure requires a final reckoning with O’Malley, James mounts a campaign to have the aging priest formally defrocked, an effort that bogs down in the church’s legalism and ingrained equivocation. Medugno, a playwright, and Seago, a deaf actor, are pointed in their condemnation of church policies on priestly abusers as well as in their discussion of problems of the deaf and hard-of-hearing. (Most of the dialogue is both spoken and signed, and the playwrights insist that deaf and hard-of-hearing actors play those specific roles.) As a result, there’s didacticism in the script, with characters sometimes speaking direct exposition to the audience or declaiming their anger—“Shame on you!”—to O’Malley’s imagined presence. Lacking Part I’s narrative structure of crime and revelation, Part II’s rumination on the psychological aftermath feels feckless and overwrought; as James bemoans the ruination of his life from a single brief assault, one starts to empathize with other characters who urge him to move on. The play’s high point is the revelation of the creepy deceptions—and self-deceptions—with which O’Malley weaves his religious strictures into his violation of children; it’s a compelling, and revolting, portrait of a warped moral sensibility.
A sometimes stilted, sometimes psychologically incisive dramatization of Catholic sex-abuse scandals.

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499272895

Page Count: 174

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 30, 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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Laymon moves us dazzlingly (and sometimes bewilderingly) from 1964 to 1985 to 2013 and incorporates themes of prejudice,...


A novel within a novel—hilarious, moving and occasionally dizzying.

Citoyen “City” Coldson is a 14-year-old wunderkind when it comes to crafting sentences. In fact, his only rival is his classmate LaVander Peeler. Although the two don’t get along, they’ve qualified to appear on the national finals of the contest "Can You Use That Word in a Sentence," and each is determined to win. Unfortunately, on the nationally televised show, City is given the word “niggardly” and, to say the least, does not provide a “correct, appropriate or dynamic usage” of the word as the rules require. LaVander similarly blows his chance with the word “chitterlings,” so both are humiliated, City the more so since his appearance is available to all on YouTube. This leads to a confrontation with his grandmother, alas for City, “the greatest whupper in the history of Mississippi whuppings.” Meanwhile, the principal at City’s school has given him a book entitled Long Division. When City begins to read this, he discovers that the main character is named City Coldson, and he’s in love with a Shalaya Crump...but this is in 1985, and the contest finals occurred in 2013. (Laymon is nothing if not contemporary.) A girl named Baize Shephard also appears in the novel City is reading, though in 2013, she has mysteriously disappeared a few weeks before City’s humiliation. Laymon cleverly interweaves his narrative threads and connects characters in surprising and seemingly impossible ways.

Laymon moves us dazzlingly (and sometimes bewilderingly) from 1964 to 1985 to 2013 and incorporates themes of prejudice, confusion and love rooted in an emphatically post-Katrina world.

Pub Date: June 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-932841-72-5

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Bolden/Agate

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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