Precisely observed characters, keen prose and a sure sense of how we simultaneously complicate and survive our lives make...


The pressures of the examined life reshape priorities and relationships among an expanding and contracting extended family of urban intellectuals.

Morton’s fourth novel (A Window Across the River, 2003, etc.) moves with brisk efficiency among linked subplots concerning respected literary novelist Adam Weller (63, and involved with a much younger woman), his resentful ex Eleanor (a psychologist) and their youngest child, Maud, a lecturer and Ph.D. candidate in philosophy with a history of inchoate commitments and nervous breakdowns. Maud seems to be emerging from her lifelong fragility when she falls for Samir, an Arab-American carpenter whose continuing sorrow over the death of his three-year-old daughter will be gradually assuaged after Maud informs him she’s pregnant. Eleanor, obese and depressed, stubbornly resists the chance for happiness offered by Patrick, who has spent his life as a labor activist, but reserved the energy to pursue her again, even after 40 years. Meanwhile, the wily Adam (a self-justifying careerist whose expressive egotism is reminiscent of more than one Saul Bellow character) sees an opportunity to embellish his reputation when Ruth, widow of eminent novelist (and Adam’s mentor) Isidore Cantor, produces the completed manuscript of her husband’s “unknown” novel, then dies—before anyone but Adam knows of the book’s existence. Abetted by his brazen mistress Thea (employed as an assistant to TV interviewer Charlie Rose), Adam—as usual—thrives. Others around him are less fortunate. Eleanor settles for sublimating her happiness in tending others’ needs. Maud loses one great love, gains another and—paradoxically—acquires a wisdom beyond her elders’ grasp. A philosopher to the core, she assures another afflicted soul (her wheelchair-bound confidant Ralph) that “We must imagine Sisyphus happy”; and, drawing the inevitable conclusion, accepts that “The law of life . . . is striving.”

Precisely observed characters, keen prose and a sure sense of how we simultaneously complicate and survive our lives make this one something special.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2006

ISBN: 0-15-101192-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2006

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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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