Hamilton is a graceful stylist, but he can’t quite make the details of Gregor’s life cohere into a resonant tale of one...


An aging man grapples with his past and with a family that questions his life story.

Hamilton has focused on the psychological displacement created by World War II in memoirs (The Harbor Boys, 2006, etc.) and novels (Sad Bastard, 1999, etc.), and he returns to that difficult terrain in the opening pages here. Three-year-old Gregor Liedmann is killed as the Allies bomb Berlin in 1945, and his distraught mother, Maria, roams the streets hoping to find him. No luck, but she and her father find another young boy, seemingly abandoned with “no records, no documents, no indication what happened to him or how he got here.” Fast-forward to the present day: Gregor is an esteemed musician and composer hoping to reconnect with his estranged wife, Mara, and his idealistic son, Daniel. The setting is a pastoral orchard south of Berlin, but a lot of anger thrums under surface. In flashbacks, we learn that Gregor strained to separate himself from his parents after learning of his adoption, a tense situation that prompted Mara to find Gregor’s adoptive mother in hopes of reconciliation. That goes badly: Maria insists that Gregor is her biological son, arguments ensue, and Gregor is soon off to Ireland to wash his hands of his wife, mother and child. Relationships have ended over less, but Hamilton never quite sells this split, mainly because his characters aren’t filled out especially well. His earnest book feels unfinished, an impression reinforced by a plethora of underwritten secondary figures—particularly Daniel, who exists mainly to remind Gregor (and the reader) of his abandonment. Though the story moves toward a final reckoning, the closing revelation is underwhelming.

Hamilton is a graceful stylist, but he can’t quite make the details of Gregor’s life cohere into a resonant tale of one man’s identity crisis.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-06-078468-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 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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