THE PITCHER SHOWER

The Depression years are made a mite less depressing by the likable protagonist of this latest of Harington’s ongoing Arkansas Ozark chronicles.

He’s “Hoppy Boyd, the happy moving showman of moving pitchers,” an itinerant entrepreneur who brings good cheer in the form of cowboy movies to the inhabitants of the several towns along his route. Hoppy (real name: Landon) isn’t all that happy, however, burdened by a strong sense of his failure to amount to much and by chronic sexual frustration exacerbated no less by the infrequency of his experiences than with the nagging fear that he’s an inept lover. Matters begin improving when Hoppy permits teenaged stowaway “Carl Whitlow” to become his assistant, delightedly discovers Carl’s true identity and bolsters his traveling shows with such inspired innovations as magic tricks and buttered popcorn. Trouble looms, in the unambiguously threatening form of hellfire-and-damnation preacher Emmett Binns (who finds error and blasphemy in even popular favorite Hopalong Cassidy’s G-rated exploits), and in the outwardly pleasing one of manly storekeeper Arlis Fraught (both Hoppy’s declared best friend and his most troublesome rival). The novel meanders along amiably, and pretty much plotlessly—until all Hoppy’s films are stolen, and in desperation he exhibits Max Reinhardt’s classic 1930s film version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the complications kick in. The ensuing pleasures include a rib-tickling summary of the play’s dizzying plot (from Hoppy’s hornswoggled viewpoint), and a series of mock-heroic romantic escapades that deftly echo Shakespeare while gently revealing what fools these good country people be. It’s all somewhat ragged, but Harington sells it skillfully, providing some luscious zingers: “Singing cowboys ought to be rounded up and shot,” he writes, and “There’s no understanding the human heart, let alone the human tallywhacker.” That last one belongs in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.

Harington rides again.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-59264-123-7

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Toby Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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