Strictly for those who like experimental fiction.


A prolonged tempest in a demitasse in the demimonde of contemporary Lisbon.

Stealing marches on Faulkner and Joyce, Portuguese novelist Antunes (The Inquisitors’ Manual, 2003, etc.) turns in a contemporary gothic tale delivered in stream-of-consciousness prose, or perhaps better, stream-of-consciousnesses. The ostensible narrator, Paulo Antunes Lima, is a soul both tough and sensitive, not quite sure what to make of his own background, with a father who was one of Lisbon’s preeminent drag queens and whose appetites were catholic and many. “When I was little I would settle down outside there near the horses and the sea so the waves would muffle the voices inside the house and thank God that for an hour or two I could forget about them, my father next to the refrigerator with the dwarf from Snow White on top, turning it round and round without looking at it, my mother asking him in a hiss that carried to the pine trees and made me call to them,” Paulo reflects in a Proustian, underpunctuated moment that is, strange to say, one of the narrative’s more accessible, as voices come and go and events get increasingly ugly. Dad—Carlos or Soraia, depending on hour and mood—dies in an episode both ghastly and politically charged. His lover follows, brought down by poor lifestyle choices. And just about everyone else who comes into contact with Lisbon’s uncharted side, with its victims and victimizers, suffers or doles out pain, violence and bullying (“Doesn’t anybody love you, faggot?”). There is little joy in these pages, but plenty of redemption. Reader be warned, however—this most literary of novels requires a great deal of work to suss out the outlines of a story, for if Antunes seems bent on turning in a homegrown version of Joyce, it is the Joyce of Finnegans Wake, and of Faulkner, the Faulkner of As I Lay Dying.

Strictly for those who like experimental fiction.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-393-32948-3

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2008

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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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