Attempting to straddle the line between themes of family and addiction, the author misses both in the process.

CHEMISTRY

Fourth novel from Wilkins (Little Masters, 1997, etc.), about a family that can’t seem to extricate itself from drugs, legal or illegal.

You’re supposed to have more to show for yourself by the time you’re 40 than addiction, prodigal son Jamie Webb thinks. He’s 41, about to head home again to Timaru, on New Zealand’s South Island. There, Jamie’s more reliable brother, Don, has hit something of a rut: “That was more or less how it was with his decisions these days—he decided something and it happened.” Mother Ruth wonders whether it’s her fault the kids never visit: “Perhaps her children didn’t come home because they sensed something else in her, some fearful need she was keeping from them which would be sprung once they moved back in.” But come home Jamie does. He’s a stranger to Ruth, who thinks, even though he looks terrible, that he probably works as a sex entertainer of some kind because his fingernails are clean. Once Jamie’s ensconced in the house, the novel turns into an excursion through family history and New Zealand’s drug culture. It seems that Don isn’t as placid as he first appears; not only does he pop the occasional Halcion, but he’s secretly been dealing drugs in exchange for sexual favors. Wilkins has command of his native settings and straightforward prose, but too often his characters seem no more real than the celebrities he references to place the narrative in time (Tiger Woods, Pamela and Tommy Lee). Of course the plot is headed for violence, blackmail, cops and a courtroom, but not before the stakes for the family are revealed: “Probably it meant Don believed his brother incapable of making a good choice. This fault in Don—he finally saw—went much wider than Jamie. It was the shadow cast by his skill at helping people.”

Attempting to straddle the line between themes of family and addiction, the author misses both in the process.

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-86207-549-2

Page Count: 302

Publisher: Granta

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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