A compelling idea fizzles out into anticlimactic detail.

THE DOGS OF BABEL

A workmanlike, confusedly titled debut about the death of a morbid young wife.

Paul Iverson, a regular-guy linguistics prof at a mid-Atlantic university, receives the news that his wife of several years, Lexy, has fallen to her death from a backyard apple tree. Only her beloved dog Lorelei, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, has witnessed the fall and the last hours of her life, and Paul, grieving and numb, embarks on the professionally estranging work of trying to get Lorelei to tell (literally) what she knows. Oddities emerge—like the fact that Lexy cooked and fed the dog a steak and rearranged the bookshelves before she climbed and fell—suggesting that Lexy, a maker of festive masks from clay, paper, and varnish, had an ulterior motive in climbing the tree. In his disembodied depression, Paul researches possibilities of language acquisition in dogs and even contacts an imprisoned canine mutilator convicted of conducting surgery on dogs to reshape their palates for talking. When Paul attends a meeting of the Cerberus Society, the story turns really bizarre, but only briefly: Parkhurst adheres to the gradual, fairly tedious unraveling of Paul and Lexy’s courtship and married life. The lack of detail about Lexy’s past is covered by her charmingly erratic behavior as a newlywed—the playful thespian masks she fashions for weddings and plays transforming into death masks. But there’s an underlying fissure in this conflicted first novel, the misdirected title a clue: it’s a simple love story without the gumption to go in more unsettling directions à la Patrick McGrath. The highlight isn’t the couple’s first date at Disney World, but the kitschy TV medium Lady Arabelle’s tarot card reading of Lexy’s last night alive. Paul is an emotionally bumbling Everyman no one can dislike, simply desiring a stable home and family, while his wife’s coreless irresolution seems without substance and ultimately merely irritating.

A compelling idea fizzles out into anticlimactic detail.

Pub Date: June 13, 2003

ISBN: 0-316-16868-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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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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