Karlin's fourth novel (The Extras; Lost Armies, etc.), set in Thailand and Burma, is part MIA adventure, part opium-lord showdown. Despite some effective use of hallucination imagery, it's also contrived and cluttered—as though Karlin felt the necessity to include every clichÇ from Vietnam and its aftermath. Loman is a veteran who ``never had to kill anyone'' during the war. Now, he runs a bar in Bangkok, where his buddies have names like ``Fat Al,'' ``Chuckie's-in-Love,'' and ``Helicopter Harry,'' and where his instinct is to protect his girls from groping German tourists. ``Being a daddy is bad for business,'' his partner Jimmy Change tells him. ``Girls just want to have fun.'' Loman, that is, was ``a good and fair pimp.'' Once we've been treated to such local color and slice-of-life, the action begins. Congressman Mundy, who likes to think of himself as ``the vet's best friend,'' shows up on an ``unofficial'' fact-finding mission concerning MIAs; he's being guided by Weyland, who is, of course (as we discover down the line), using Mundy as a puppet. Next thing we know, Loman is on a plane for Burma, where he's supposed to meet Aung Khin, an opium trade lord. After bits of tough-guy talk, Loman and the filmmakers are pulled from an Econoline van in the mountains into the heart of darkness. You name it, Karlin includes it: cross-dressing, stories within stories, BVDs strewn on mountain paths, kidnappings and deaths. First, Mundy is blown away because he's supercilious, then Weyland buys it. Loman is finally rescued, debriefed, and told that anything he chooses to reveal is ``unofficial and deniable.'' He gets a one-way ticket home. Mercifully, the story fades to black. Karlin layers the novel with mythological Vietnamese riffs, but most readers will be too weary—after battling superficial characterizations and one plot contrivance after another—to care much one way or the other.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 1993

ISBN: 0-8050-1083-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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