Journalist Lee (Atlantic Monthly, Los Angeles Times, etc.) uses his foreign correspondent experience impressively. Once he...


Second-novelist Lee (The Lost Tribe, 1998) spans three continents, mixing high-stakes suspense with erotic intrigue.

American news photographer and narrator Nicky Bettencourt is losing his edge, so his London boss at Newsweek hooks him up with the formidable US journalist Daniel McFarland. Daniel is about to leave his farmhouse outside Rome for Uganda, in hopes of tracking down the Reverend Okello, a self-styled prophet who has kidnapped tourists from a game park (yes, that really happened). The apprehensive photographer soon bonds with the fearless journalist, and they fly to a Ugandan refugee camp run by the British doctor Julia Cadell and financed by her lover, the billionaire banker Richard Seaton. Outraging Julia, Daniel bribes a child, a traumatized victim of Okello’s, to guide them to the prophet—anything for the story. But despite the dangers, he gets his interview, miraculously survives the crash of his Cessna, and loses his hard professional shell while recovering at an AIDS mission. All this is fine: a gripping storyline, rich with detail, shaped by a traveler who has talked the talk and walked the walk. Then the action shifts to Seaton’s English castle, where Daniel persuades the no longer outraged Julia to bolt (Nicky is the faithful witness). At the narrative’s still center, the new lovers shut out the world and enjoy a long idyll in their London hideaway—passages that call for a lyric intensity Lee can’t manage, and the story sags. It picks up again in the final section, where Lee re-creates another headline-grabber: the carnage attending East Timor’s independence. Julia has improbably agreed to run another of Seaton’s refugee camps there, and he and Daniel are both on hand, but the untangling of this three-way lovers’ knot is overshadowed by the real-world agony of the Timorese.

Journalist Lee (Atlantic Monthly, Los Angeles Times, etc.) uses his foreign correspondent experience impressively. Once he matches that with well-developed characters, we’ll be looking at a major talent.

Pub Date: May 9, 2003

ISBN: 1-56512-379-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 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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