A plodding and confusing story that’s hampered by a lack of believability and awkward prose.



A young man meticulously plans a yearslong plot to avenge his mother’s abuse at the hands of a powerful political figure.

Marci Davis is on the fast track to success. The Louisville native is among the first African American women to earn a degree from the University of Kentucky in the 1950s. She becomes a “key aide” to the state’s governor, Bentley Wellington, but this comes to an end after he brutally rapes and impregnates her. She moves to New Jersey to start a new life, even changing her name to Marci Davis Jeffries. Much later, in 1975, she tells her son, Sean, the truth about his conception, and he devotes himself to exacting revenge on his mother’s behalf. His plan is exasperatingly convoluted, however, which is typical of Hilliard’s meandering, ill-disciplined narrative. It involves Sean’s acquiring “an intimate working knowledge of the thoroughbred racing industry” in order to strike at the Wellingtons’ most successful holdings, “one of the premier breeding operations in the nation.” Even when the Wellington business empire falls on hard times, the breeding business is still a shining success, although Beau Bentley, Sean’s half brother, threatens to destroy it himself through his illegal financial dealings. Meanwhile, Jorge Hauptmann, one of Sean’s friends, discovers that the father who abandoned him as a child, Fabian, worked undercover against the Nazis during World War II and that his mother, Gretchen, was a Nazi collaborator. Jorge is reunited with his dad after Fabian learns that Gretchen is under threat from a “domestic far-right-wing political group with neo-Nazi elements.” These two seemingly incongruent storylines eventually intersect in a thoroughly unbelievable manner. Hilliard’s literary ambition is certainly impressive. Over the course of this book, he constructs a generationally sweeping tale and attempts to bind its disparate parts together with a single overarching theme: the corrosive power of family secrets. However, the story is excessively and frustratingly complex—there are far too many subplots, and the author’s seemingly endless cast of characters becomes a burden to the reader. As a result, the novel reads like a collection of short stories that seem to be connected by only the slightest of threads. Also, the author practically buries the reader under mountains of detail that are incidental to the story at hand. At one point, for example, he provides the biographies of a company’s board members; later on, he describes, with excruciating thoroughness, an official document that must be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. To make matters worse, the prose doesn’t generate any feelings of authentic passion; instead of a vibrant human drama, it feels more like a still-life painting. This passage from a sex scene, for instance, somehow manages to be simultaneously lurid and mechanical: “ ‘Give it to me hard!...Piledrive me!...Ahhhhhhh!’ And then it was over. The sexual fireworks he’d just experienced set a really high bar for the pyrotechnics to come outside.”

A plodding and confusing story that’s hampered by a lack of believability and awkward prose.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-977217-59-2

Page Count: 332

Publisher: Outskirts Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 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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