A factory owner’s suicide hastens the decline of a small town.

  Woodring (Springtime on Mars, 2008, etc.) doesn’t specify the state, but her fictional Goliath is clearly in the South, and the fact that the on-the-brink-of-bankruptcy factory makes furniture suggests her native North Carolina. It’s a mild October day when teenaged Vincent Bailey finds the crushed body of Percy Harding on the railroad tracks, but cold weather and hard times are coming. Percy’s death has changed Goliath’s zeitgeist, thinks police chief Clyde Winston: “It was as if every person in town had put their own bodies in way of the train and were all broken now, spiritless.” Mood-directing statements like this dot the narrative, which swoops in and out of many lives. Central among them is Rosamond Rogers, who was Percy’s secretary and has become a reluctant repository of her neighbors’ confidences about everything from stealing candy to deliberately pricking babies with diaper pins. None of the confidences seem to justify the book’s lugubrious atmosphere, nor does the main action, which shows Rosamond and her daughter Agnes groping for love with Clyde and his son Ray, county groundskeeper and freelance preacher. (Rosamond’s traveling-salesman husband left years ago; Agnes has dropped out of college and a sort-of marriage to return to Goliath, though she’s not quite sure why.) A more baroque plotline follows Vincent, radically unsettled by his discovery of Percy’s corpse, in his reckless friendship with the equally troubled Cassie, who incites the boy to eat increasingly dangerous objects (culminating in a live mouse) and to rob houses with her. These stories, and many other subordinate ones, develop very slowly, and Woodring’s tone adds to the sense of stasis—she mistakes portentousness for seriousness and proclamations for insights. The climax, complete with a parade, a baseball game and a cataclysmic fire, is much too obviously designed to ensure “that Goliath should end in devastation and miracle.”


Pub Date: April 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-67501-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 12

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize

  • National Book Award Finalist


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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?