Henderson displays a powerful moral imagination; all that’s missing is discipline.


Screwed-up parents beget screwed-up kids. So it’s no surprise that an ill-omened teen pregnancy is the centerpiece of this bold debut, a heady witches’ brew.

Teddy and Jude, best friends in their mid-teens, have big problems. Jude was adopted at birth, possibly suffering from fetal-alcohol effects. His adoptive parents, Les and Harriet, are feckless potheads, Les growing pot, Harriet making drug paraphernalia. When Jude turns nine, Harriet evicts Les for cheating on her; Jude hasn’t seen him since. As for Teddy, his Indian father is supposedly dead; his white mother, a sloppy drunk, has just split. The boys skateboard through their Vermont town, getting high and shoplifting at will. On this last day of 1987, they have a date with Eliza, a total stranger but the daughter of Les’ girlfriend. At 15, she’s already a cokehead and sexually promiscuous. They gatecrash a party. Eliza gives Teddy cocaine before they have sex in a bathroom and she returns to New York. Back out in the cold, Jude’s idea that they inhale Freon is a step too far; he almost dies and Teddy does die, but he will haunt the novel, for he has made Eliza pregnant. All this could be depressing, but it’s not, thanks to the barbed language and fast pacing. And Henderson’s just getting started. Les shows up to remove Jude to Alphabet City, the ravaged Manhattan neighborhood where he lives. A near neighbor is Teddy’s 18-year-old half brother Johnny, whose role becomes increasingly prominent. Johnny is a tattoo artist and musician, as well as a straight-edge hardcore punk (no booze, no drugs). Although a closeted gay, he chivalrously offers to marry Eliza and claim paternity to thwart Eliza’s mother, who’s pushing for adoption. This is where Henderson loses the thread, wobbling uncertainly between Jude, Johnny and Eliza while doing double duty as a counterculture guide to the straight-edge scene. Context overwhelms characters, the unwieldy cast now including Johnny’s AIDS-stricken lover and Teddy’s Indian father.

Henderson displays a powerful moral imagination; all that’s missing is discipline.

Pub Date: June 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-202102-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2011

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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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