Bauer's second novel (after Dexterity, 1989) plays with two durable American themes: the national fondness for snake oil and self-made men. This engaging and episodic romp through the first half of the 20th-century is lighter, more accessible, and far more commercial than Bauer's lyrically intense debut. Born on the Texas frontier at the turn of the century, Luther Mathias witnesses his mother's fevered madness and death, only to be abandoned by his roustabout father at ten. Young Luther joins his uncle's traveling medicine show and proves a quick study. He's garrulous and charming, deriving his talent from his knowledge of the Bible and his uncle's highfalutin lingo. But at 13, Luther grows disillusioned with his uncle's scam. When he leaves the show at 17, Luther survives by his wits, eventually acquiring a mail- order medical degree and setting up practice in a Texas bordertown as a specialist in VD cures. All this changes when beautiful movie starlet Alyce Rae stumbles into town with a case of amnesia, soon followed by her vain husband, silent movie star Billy Boswell. The neurotic Billy provides Luther with his first experiment in a new specialty: cures for impotency. And when Billy summons Luther to Hollywood for a second treatment, a meeting with media magnate Haskell Albright leads to new opportunities. Luther—part Gatsby, part Citizen Cane—begins building his corn-pone empire based on the Bible, positive thinking, and healthy sex. A radio show and a clinic back in Texas allow Luther to build his tumbleweed Xanadu, all the time dreaming of his Daisy named Alyce. With Billy's tragic fall from studio grace and numerous business problems, Luther begins to see his world crumble. It's a classic tragedy of hubris, even though Luther seems to be headed off for new adventures at the end. An imaginative lark in the Doctorow vein (without the didacticism): rough-and-tumble fiction that exults in its inventiveness and seems written with an eye toward the big screen.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 1993

ISBN: 0-688-09460-0

Page Count: 386

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1993

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


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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