A bit too lugubrious for an elegy, a bit too lighthearted for a caper: still, a serviceable account of a young woman finding...


Second-novelist Kimmel (The Solace of Leaving Early, 2002, etc.) describes a young pool hustler’s coming of age in rural 1980s Indiana.

Cassandra (“Cassie”) Claiborne has a father bad enough to be hated but too memorable to be forgotten. Jimmy Claiborne met Cassie’s mother Laura in a diner in New Orleans, where Laura worked as a waitress. Genteel and quintessentially southern, Laura comes across as a tragicomic figure in the tradition of Blanche DuBois, forever pining for the childhood innocence she lost when she made her one great mistake: falling in love with Jimmy. Throwing over any number of other badly smitten suitors, she moved north with him to Indiana, where he almost immediately began abandoning her for weeks or months at a time as he pursued his passion for gambling in general and pool especially. Cassie and her older sister Belle grew up used to their father’s long absences and their mother’s rambling laments for the world that she left behind in New Orleans. Temperamentally different (Belle is intellectual and timid, Cassie forceful and ingenious in a tomboyish kind of way), the two sisters are united in their resentment of Jimmy, who eventually shacks up with his trailer-trash girlfriend and files for divorce after the fact. Cassie emulates her father in one respect only: pool, which she learned at an early age from watching him hustle. By the time she’s in her teens, Cassie is more than her father’s equal, and she uses her skill not only to support her abandoned mother and sister but (in a revenge match equal to anything in The Hustler) to repay Jimmy for all his years of neglect.

A bit too lugubrious for an elegy, a bit too lighthearted for a caper: still, a serviceable account of a young woman finding her own way in a twilit world of regret and loss.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2004

ISBN: 0-7432-4775-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2003

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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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