All very true to life, in other words, with no car chases or explosions. Nothing much happens, but it does so with a...

IT’S ALL RIGHT NOW

A sprawling saga of the English suburbs, a sort of East Enders for north Londoners, that’s attracted more attention across the pond for the debut author’s age and the size of his U.S. advance than for its literary qualities.

That’s unfortunate, for 72-year-old Chadwick, who has knocked around the world and apparently draws much on his experiences here, has a quiet but assured way with a sentence. Tom Ripple, his protagonist and narrator, is a middling middle-ager when we meet him in the early 1970s; he works without satisfaction (“My job is to produce tables and charts showing trends in sales and the like”), lives with a wife with whom he shares a clenched-hair failure to communicate (“My wife does not play games, perhaps on principle. I’m not sure, I’ve never asked her”) and two children who can barely be stirred from the telly. His neighbors are strange but not overtly extraordinary (covertly, yes, to be sure), and everyone seems a bit baffled that the nation came out ahead in WWII and has got to its present state. Time passes. Tom has aged ten years, Margaret Thatcher is now in office, he’s out of the grip of his hated boss, out of his marriage and even further removed from his children, whose lives are taking contours he cannot understand. As his son inches out of the closet, Tom explains to himself that “sex, or whatever it’s called these days, isn’t everything”; just so, he scarcely recognizes London, now a world city full of strange sights and sounds. Things don’t get more comprehensible as another decade passes and the millennium approaches; Tom huffs and puffs his way uphill, literally and figuratively, acquires a wider and wiser view of things, and extends himself even as everyone else in his bewildering world finds more reason to pull up the carapace.

All very true to life, in other words, with no car chases or explosions. Nothing much happens, but it does so with a world-weary elegance, full of wintry discontent. Mature, knowing and very well done.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-074286-0

Page Count: 672

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2005

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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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