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Patterned on Ulysses, crammed with an entire liberal arts education, this debut’s vast ambition goes up against Conn’s obvious and genuine talent: against all odds, talent wins.

Benjamin Seymour is in depressive stasis, not quite sleepwalking through an often wonderfully detailed New York City, as he mourns and longs for his lost dead love, Penelope, a love documented in the many pornographic films they made together, she as star, he both in front of and behind the camera. Related in a variety of formal tricks, the novel gives us the real magic of first love, set in a mythic Ithaca, where they both attended Cornell, and a loving history of American porn (inevitably reminiscent of Boogie Nights), culminating in Benjamin's mentor, friend, and Quilty figure, Milton Minegold, a heroic, pathetic, scary Al Goldstein type (Conn includes a number of recognizable satirized figures). While Benjamin's focus on the scatological and masturbatory is not for the squeamish, he's a winning character, a genuine good sort, and when he meets lawyer Katherine Welland, an erotic urge turns into chivalry and he goes on a quest to find her runaway daughter, nine-year-old Finn, as precocious as a Glass but as charming as Eloise, and herself a heroic figure, struggling with incipient adult understandings of the world. Together, Finn and Benjamin go on a transformative metaphorical journey that brings everyone home, Finn to her mother, Benjamin to her mother's bed, and the reader to the Molly Bloom climax. Despite sometimes precious, self-congratulatory prose, smart but easy puns (“The child was jung but not easily freudened”), and a brittle stylistic cleverness (the centerpiece here is a 110-page screenplay of a surreal musical fantasia starting in the Times Square Disney store and continuing through stygian subways), Conn sends us on an engaging, entertaining, funny, and moving trip.

A writer to watch.

Pub Date: June 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-887128-55-7

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

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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