Much of the story revolves around issues of reproduction, housework, and economic opportunity that contemporary feminists...

OUR SPOONS CAME FROM WOOLWORTHS

A Depression-era artist struggles with crippling poverty and sexism in bohemian London; the result is a surprisingly charming and funny novel (first published in 1950).

Sophia meets her future husband, Charles, on a train; both are 20 years old and carrying portfolios. When they marry against their families’ wishes, Charles’ father cuts off his allowance, leaving them with nothing to live on but what Sophia earns working at a commercial studio. To their dismay, she soon finds herself pregnant: “I had a kind of idea if you controlled your mind and said ‘I won’t have any babies’ very hard, then most likely they wouldn’t come. I thought that was what was meant by birth-control.” Fired for her pregnancy, she cobbles together something less than a living as a model, while Charles paints, parties, schemes to have their son sent to an orphanage, and—typical of the men in Sophia’s life—does almost nothing to support them or care for the household. In the years that follow, Sophia allows Charles to talk her into one abortion and later refuses to have another, losing a child to sickness brought on by “stupidity and poverty.” She describes her early conversations with a man who will become her lover: “When I talked he listened most intently to every word I said, as if it was very precious. This had never happened to me before, and gave me great confidence in myself, but now I know from experience a great many men listen like that, and it doesn’t mean a thing; they are most likely thinking up a new way of getting out of paying their income tax.” Frequently too poor to buy food, Sophia often has to choose between keeping her children at home and sending them away to unpleasant relatives who can afford to feed them.

Much of the story revolves around issues of reproduction, housework, and economic opportunity that contemporary feminists would see as questions of justice. But Sophia narrates a story of fairy tale–like fatality, casting an amused, self-deprecating light on even the most painful moments.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59017-896-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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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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