A STRANGER STILL

A first US appearance for a novel of acutely detailed alienation and despairing acceptance, first published in 1935 in Britain under the pseudonym Helen Ferguson. Kavan (Mercury, 1995), a writer always attuned to sensibility and mood, offers a story with a strong autobiographical element and period flavor that, in keeping with the despair that lurks beneath the surface, brings little solace. Lives intersect as Martin, the younger son of London department store magnate William Lewison, meets a woman named Anna Kavan while vacationing with his father in the south of France. Lewison Sr. has just prevailed upon Martin to divorce his French (and most unsuitable) wife, Germaine, on the grounds of her adultery with Martin's best friend, and Martin, self-centered but full of good intentions, is awaiting the final decree. Anna Kavan has left her husband Matthew in Burma and fled to London, but the attentions of a wealthy old judge who wants her to be his mistress, and the difficulties of a frustrating business venture with a friend, have driven her to France. Acknowledging her own cool and egocentric nature, she determines to make a life for herself, but she is neither wealthy nor educated, and when she meets Martin and the two fall in love, Anna wants to marry him. But Martin prefers his freedom, so Anna, unable to survive alone, reconciles with her husband. Meanwhile, the Lewison fortunes suffer a reversal, William falls ill, and Gwenda, Martin's sister, betrays her family by siding with their rival Tony Quested. Only William and Martin seem made of tougher stuff: William determines to revive his business, and Martin pays his debt to Anna by painting her portrait: It keeps ``alive a good and lovely thing which otherwise would have perished.'' Lives that are brittle, even shallow, are mercilessly stripped bare to reveal all their flaws and inadequacies by a writer who sees more often than not through a glass darkly. Chilling but intriguing.

Pub Date: March 20, 1996

ISBN: 0-7206-0955-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1996

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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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