An ultimately unsuccessful attempt to eroticize abuse.

The Story of Six According to Claire

An erotically charged novel with disturbing abuse at its center.

Students who fail their high school studies are sent to Repeater’s College, where they are taught discipline and respect via a deeply visceral method: caning. Any violation of school rules and it’s off to the Head Office to receive either four or six of “the best,” hardest, most precisely placed strokes of the buttocks, administered with a cane. Teenage Claire almost made it through her time at Repeater’s without a caning, but when she’s caught with a cigarette, it’s off to the office. She expects pain and terror—not the sexual feelings that arise in anticipation of the beating and during the beating itself. What awakens in Claire is, according to author Building, a sick, corrupt version of sexuality that can never be divorced from abuse. Claire discovers that only in her sexual explorations with Mark, another student who has been recently beaten, can she relieve her emotional and physical feelings of desire and confusion. The reader begins to see the extent of the damage done to these students as their friendships and other relationships are poisoned by fear and manipulation. Building attempts to turn a horrifying practice and a chronicle of psychological harm into erotic fiction for adults, even going so far as to describe both the beatings and sexual acts in similarly graphic detail. The problem with this endeavor is that, despite Building’s many disclaimers, readers are placed in the position of the sadistic tormentors and encouraged to draw erotic pleasure from descriptions of abuse. Building tries to distinguish BDSM—in which consenting partners agree on specific levels of pain administration and acceptance—from the book’s definition of abuse, in which there is absolutely no consent and the victims are used for the perpetrator’s own sexual satisfaction. But an unsettling confusion emerges when Building tries to arouse readers with descriptions of acts—some of which are rather poorly written; “female sex parts” appears a number of times—that, though they might turn on the characters, shouldn’t titillate readers.

An ultimately unsuccessful attempt to eroticize abuse.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2013

ISBN: 978-1492958796

Page Count: 274

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2013

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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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