Proulx's third novel, and first since the spectacular success of her Pulitzer—winning The Shipping News (1993), is a panoramic mosaic of the immigrant experience in 20th century America that confirms her oft-noted similarity to Steinbeck—and offers the most comprehensive survey of working-class life since Dos Passos's U.S.A. trilogy. It begins in 1890 with the passage to "La Merica" of a Sicilian accordion maker and his small son, and their ordeal in New Orleans, where the (nameless) father finds work on the docks and meets a violent fate that will become the pattern engulfing virtually all of the story's successive characters. Proulx then telescopes the lives of those into whose hands the Sicilian's button accordion passes—whether it's given, sold, or stolen—through the next hundred years. Thus we observe the mingled passion for music and brute violence of a German immigrant family in North Dakota; a brawling Acadian clan and its Cajun relations; the Polish Przbyszes of Chicago; and many others. The sheer number of varied and vivid characters created, and the specifics of their lives, are enough to make this one of the most accomplished American novels of recent years. Proulx's angular, image-filled prose is tuned down a notch or two here; the demands imposed by the book's staggering content obviously required that it be somewhat more conventionally expository. The real fire is in her tone-perfect dialogue. Some may object to what seems an unrealistic profusion of melodramatic incident. But surely Proulx's point is that America's underclass—particularly its non-native one—is especially vulnerable and (here we see her daring) prone to angry confrontation and early death. She faces it unflinchingly, and the results are grim, depressing, and memorable. The popular-literary audience that loved The Shipping News will devour this big novel as well.

Pub Date: June 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-684-19548-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1996

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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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