BLACKBURN

The rollicking, horrifying, ultimately elegiac career of serial killer Jimmy Blackburn, whose adventures take him from his father's Kansas chicken farm to a coast-to-coast odyssey of killing people who don't deserve to live. Denton (Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede, 1991) traces Blackburn's hands-on approach to social engineering to the usual sources: his parents' shrilly failed marriage, his resentment of his father's beatings and a neighbor kid's bullying, the killing of a stray dog he befriends, and the spectacular inversion of his religious impulses after a run-in with a divinely inspired blind man whose internal guidance system turns out to be less reliable than he thought. Initially alternating between deadpan accounts of selections from the annals of Blackburn's killings (victims numbers 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 14, 15, 17, 19, 21) and flashbacks to his childhood abuses and increasingly ingenious acts of vengeance, Denton works up an uproarious head of steam as Blackburn matter-of-factly takes down a wife-beater, a swaggering band leader, a hypocritical Army recruiter, a philandering bridegroom, and miscellaneous sleazy retailers. But once the flashbacks begin to catch up with the murders, the mood darkens as Blackburn finds himself involved with people who make him question his self-ordained mission: a self-hating crime novelist, a sociopathic burglar who insists he's Blackburn's double, and a messianic mental patient who converts him to the Gospel According to Morton. The rest is silence, surrounded by a frieze of Texas troopers. A bracing anecdote to the pop sociologies of mass murder it so deftly skewers. The boldly abusive mixture of hilarity, despair, and cartoon eschatology recalls Flannery O'Connor and Miss Lonelyhearts.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 1993

ISBN: 0-312-08705-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1992

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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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