Here, the author reins in the stylistic excesses of her heavy- breathing Dansville (1985) and settles in to plain-speaking—for a raw-boned confession of a woman who barely survives a near-lifetime of abuse. It all takes place in the cities and small towns of Texas. As Stella describes her nun-like, solitary life (``People like me don't [marry]'') in Fort Worth, the reader has to guess why she at first shuns the courtship of persistent young Jim, a man she instinctively likes. He's a small-town mechanic, and Stella has known others like him: ``Born into a life that they saw no reason to change (their fathers had jobs good enough...their pride was in how well they were able to copy the men who had come before them''). Stella and Jim do marry, however, and have a son. In fact, Stella comes to adore, in the worshipful sense, her new status as part of a family—with ``all the love around me.'' But then a distant kin of Jim's family thinks she recognizes Stella, and one day someone gross and evil arrives from the past. Throughout, Stella's childhood and youth are revealed, beginning with the small bit of happiness in childhood with mother Joylyn and father Doc, who, he said, could never pass his medical exams. Joylyn will disappear, driven to desperation by Doc's callous greed and drunkenness, leaving Stella, abused, in poverty and vulnerable to exploitation and years of humiliation. After a near-fatal violation (graphically detailed), she escapes to Forth Worth. But Stella finds no forgiveness for her past from the church-going Christians of her new family. It's only after more years of loneliness that she finds in herself forgiveness and love. A straightforward hapless victim's tale. Stella is no hearty Moll Flanders, but, still, there's a root authenticity here of the regional mores and rituals. This could edge into a May Sarton/Tillie Olsen feminist readership.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 1992

ISBN: 0-688-11528-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1992

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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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