A smart, discerning but protracted tale about an extraordinary man’s unique layers of memories.



A young Pentagon employee with a remarkable memory gets caught up in the Cuban Missile Crisis, among other adventures, in this novel.

Indiana native Michael Edwards has a photographic memory on steroids. It’s called eidetic memory and it helps him get a Ph.D. by the age of 22 and learn three foreign languages. In 1962, he is working in the photography room at the Pentagon, analyzing shots of enemy territory taken by U2 spy planes. His early success at spotting missile launchers in Cuba lands him a three-day gig as a “Pathfinder,” and he is dropped off in Cuba posing as a peasant farmer to get a firsthand look at the sites. His powers of observation and recall are so astonishing that President John F. Kennedy himself wants Michael in the Secret Service. After that administration’s tragic end, a childhood friend talks him into working undercover for the FBI at Berkeley, spying on student activists.  Michael convinces himself that his information will be useless and no lives will be ruined. But he sends a female friend and others to jail, leading to pangs of guilt. He needs to leave Berkeley and reinvent himself, a process he calls transubstantiation: “It gave me hope that despite this identity-less, hollow, black hole of regret that the whole Berkeley experience had sucked me into, maybe I could transubstantiate myself into a person that I could stomach.” An academic career follows, and marriage and fatherhood, but tragedy and wanderlust pull him overseas to Europe and back again. He traverses various life stages involving the dawn of the tech era and finds himself through a new love. Palmer’s (Two Cities, 2017, etc.) globe-hopping tale is written with a thirst for knowledge and a love of detail that make for an exciting read, especially because it’s about a character who is often on the forefront of new technology or fields. The overall point that people are not one thing but go through a variety of different incarnations is a strong one, especially because this sweeping story progresses through Michael’s retirement. But shifting between pensive and wild, the book is overwritten; a leaner, more concise style would have strengthened the skillful storytelling.

A smart, discerning but protracted tale about an extraordinary man’s unique layers of memories.

Pub Date: March 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68114-515-0

Page Count: 252

Publisher: Anaphora Literary Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2019

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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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