Somber, controlled prose lends dignity to this family drama, though the emotions seem oddly muted. Still, a polished and...


Black family, deep roots, abiding love.

Crita Carter lives in New York but she isn’t from there. Her father’s roots are in rural Mississippi, her mother’s in blue-collar Cleveland, where Crita grew up, the daughter of a 1950s siren in a poodle skirt whose sexy pout charmed Henry Carter into marriage. An early morning call from her mother brings bad news: Henry, the father who stands impossibly tall and strong in her childhood memories, is very sick, and no one knows why. Crita heads for Alexandria, Virginia, to pick up her married sister, and as the crowded urban settings give way to the flat openness of Ohio, they begin to retell the stories that shaped their lives, going all the way back to their beautiful, pipe-smoking grandmother. Vinola Ellis Carter, who eked out a living on a dirt farm, was beloved by her children but nearly killed in a fit of jealous rage by her husband. Yet she endured, and the next generation prospered. Henry Carter inherited enough of his father’s temper that Crita and her sisters grew up knowing better than to cross him, but son Linc turned from a promising athlete into a junkie beyond hope or help. Caught between desire for an old love, Tree, and feelings for her dying father, Crita is at sixes and sevens. She attempts a reconciliation with Linc, out of control and near death from multiple addictions. Because of him, Crita is critically wounded in a street-corner shooting and hovers in a morphine dream between this world and the next, seeing visions of her father and her family. Linc recovers, and Crita survives, but Henry Carter does not.

Somber, controlled prose lends dignity to this family drama, though the emotions seem oddly muted. Still, a polished and promising debut.

Pub Date: March 16, 2004

ISBN: 0-312-31856-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2003

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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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