As the plots interweave, their common themes—our obsession with beauty, our retreat from truth, and our denial of...


These are dark times for Elizabeth MacPherson (If I’d Killed Him When I Met Him . . . , 1995, etc.). Two months after her husband, marine biologist Cameron Dawson, disappeared on a seal-watching expedition in the North Atlantic, she allows herself to be admitted to Cherry Hill sanitarium, at first acknowledging her widowhood but gradually retreating into the fantasy that Cameron is missing, not dead. Although paralyzed by depression and numbed by her medication, the forensic anthropologist in Elizabeth remains fascinated by the social order that rules this brave new world, where not the strong nor the rich but the most shamelessly honest dominate. She comes to respect patients like Emma Kudan, whose Asperger’s syndrome leaves her disconnected from human society but acutely aware of its injustices, and Rose Hanelon, whose wit and intelligence have cost her the affections of the mediocre man she loved. Her prize, however, is ex-federal agent Hillman Randolph, who recognizes the photo Elizabeth’s brother Bill sends of his new law offices as the home of Jack Dolan, the criminal whose ill-fated capture left Randolph disfigured and bitter. Searching for answers to Dolan’s disappearance, Elizabeth sends her eccentric cousin, Geoffrey Chandler, back home to Danville to see Bill. But Bill has a dilemma of his own. He has a new house to refurbish, and his partner, A.P. Hill, is out tracking the duo the tabloids call “The PMS Outlaws”—feminist avengers led by A.P.’s old law school rival P.J. Purdue.

As the plots interweave, their common themes—our obsession with beauty, our retreat from truth, and our denial of madness—resonate through McCrumb’s sensitive, elegant language.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-345-38231-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2000

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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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