Wachtel (Joe the Engineer, 1983) invigorates a story of vague angst with a cast of warm characters. Primo Thomas suffers from an unnamed problem. It is not serious enough to be called a depression but could more appropriately be termed spiritual malaise. He has just moved back to New York City after two years teaching at a small Massachusetts college. He is becoming more and more detached from his poet ex- wife, who has moved to California. He is the son of an African- American father and an Italian-American mother, both of whom are now dead. While there is no clear sense of his dilemma, he himself is real and casually present. It is rare in American fiction to find someone who has a social conscience without that being that person's defining characteristic, but Primo, a teacher of English as a Second Language, has a natural empathy with his students that's neither preachy nor overtly politicized. His friends and relatives are equally complete and decent. It's the 1980s, tensions between the US and the Sandinistas are high, and Primo and a friend go to Nicaragua as part of a delegation of teachers. He is touched by the situation there and has a brief affair with the delegation's guide, Angelita L¢pez. The trip does not resolve anything, but it does broaden his perspective. Upon his return, he becomes aware of the bad conditions at a factory employing one of his students (who has also become his lover) and takes a stab at unionizing the shop. Wachtel smoothly integrates coincidence and recurring themes and patterns, and it is remarkable that with so indirect a plot he manages to retain the reader's interest to the degree that he does. Still, the beginning and ending seem arbitrary since so little change takes place. A meandering slice of one nice guy's life. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-670-83886-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.


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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