W9

AND OTHER LIVES

A first collection of 18 stories from novelist GÇbler (The Cure, 1994, not reviewed; etc.), writing from Northern Ireland, ranges near and far to provide gritty closeups of life’s less-distinguished moments, when desperation most overwhelms. The title piece presents an elderly ÇmigrÇ couple in London who are all but consumed by guilt at their only son’s suicide a few years earlier. Their inability to release their sadness by acknowledging a share of the blame is finally ended when the son’s widow stops by to tell them she’s remarrying. This is about as cheery as these stricken tales get. The opener, “The Chekhov Student,” is more typically lugubrious. It presents another elderly couple, unhappily married for decades, whose moment of enlightenment comes when the meek husband (—My name is Douglas Peter. . . I am extremely miserable. . . . I need to describe the troubles of my life—), having stood up at last to his spouse in one of their rows, concludes on reflection that he’s about to die. “Puerto Vallarta,”set in that Mexican resort, centers on a deranged, child-chomping Rottweiler, whose spectacular electrocution in a violent storm (as it gnaws on a pilfered chicken) is greeted with cheers by the neighbors. “Four Pesos,” which takes place in a Cuban coastal town, concerns a petty but disastrous betrayal by a Canadian tourist, on holiday to forget her just-failed marriage, who agrees to buy forbidden goods from the tourists-only store for the maid who cleans her room, then turns her in when the woman comes up a few pesos short in their exchange. The message here, “It’s a grim world, after all,” albeit precisely rendered, at the same time suffers from too narrow a focus on the bruised or broken marriage theme: tellingly, the one suggestion of a joyous union, between a journalist and the daughter of the landed gentry he’s interviewing (“A Short Story”), comes across as utterly fatuous.

Pub Date: June 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-7145-3035-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Marion Boyars

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1998

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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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