WE SO SELDOM LOOK ON LOVE

A debut collection from Canadian novelist Gowdy (Through the Green Valley, 1988) limns—with dark humor and wry compassion—the lives of those on the margins of normality. The stories here all share a common theme, echoed in the title—which comes from a poem, ``Necrophilia,'' by Frank O'Hara, that suggests ``it is better that someone loves them'': ``them'' being the dead, the physically and psychologically impaired. The title piece, narrated by a female necrophiliac and hearse driver who's been obsessed with the dead since childhood, makes her obsession no less palatable but, in the context, understandable: ``I have found no replacement for the torrid serenity of a cadaver, absorbing their energy, blazing it back out. Since that energy came from the act of life alchemizing into death, there's a possibility it was alchemical itself.'' In ``Body and Soul''—about Aunt Bea, a religious, elderly widow who provides a loving home for a brain- damaged little girl, abandoned by her mother—Gowdy accomplishes the rare feat of making goodness a compelling reality that is neither mawkish nor dull. In ``Sylvie,'' a young woman born with a set of extra hips and limbs is taken from the freak show where she works by a wealthy young doctor who's fallen in love with her—but she fears that after the surgery he suggests, she'll ``become somebody else.'' Other tales detail the anguish of a ``Two-headed Man''; the reactions of a woman who finds she's married a transsexual (``Flesh of My Flesh''); and the experience of a young mother who's lost her child in a grotesque accident (``Lizards''). Gowdy skillfully walks a fine line between sensationalism and sentimentality to give life and love to the feared and forgotten. An impressive accomplishment.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 1993

ISBN: 0-06-017031-X

Page Count: 209

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1993

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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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