Malcolm, JB, Wilhem, and Jude have been buddies since college days in the 1970s (I would guess). They are all quite different except they are male, youngish, single, possibly gay and live in NYC. And they are really, really good friends – the best kind, with love compassion, loyalty, everything you could want in a small group of friends – although over the course of the book – a lifetime – some of them have their fallings out, too.
JB – Haitian background, artist, works as a receptionist for an art publishing company, his family is lower middle class, his dad is deceased but there is a hugely supportive extended family and they thoroughly spoil him. JB becomes a famous photographer and also a drug addict.
Malcolm- mixed race, upper middle class, becomes an architect but lives with emotionally distant parents for much of the book. He is very conventional, successful, etc.Wants basically to “fit in.”
Willem – of Swedish immigrant parents. He had a handicapped brother for whom he assumed care-taker duties then moved from Wyoming to New York where he got into acting. He’s very attractive to women as well as men.
Jude – exceptional lawyer, unknown racial/ethnicity, as a child he was the victim of serious abuse and he won’t talk about but it but he involuntarily remembers. Poverty background, no romances, highly intelligent. He has an almost charmed life as an adult, but despises himself and uses self-abuse to forget his past. Jude is the pivotal character.
There are other friends of Jude – Harold and Julia a prominent lawyer and wife, Andy who is a doctor, Richard, a rich artist who is also a friend of JB’s, along with the Black and the Asian Henry Youngs. There are many characters in this book but the ones I’ve listed are the main ones and after about 100 pages it’s not at all confusing.
They all get older and successful while Jude’s health declines.
The book is told in past and present tenses – present starting toward the very end of Part 2, Chapter 2.
The main themes are of child abuse and memory, but also how our childhoods affect us all through life – also about friendship and loyalty. I don’t want to go further for fear of spoilers but it’s a beautiful book about a really seriously horrendous issue. – Not for the queasy but I almost didn’t read it because I’m that way about child abuse – so …