SKINNED ALIVE

STORIES

A depressing, disappointing first collection from accomplished gay biographer, novelist, and essayist White (The Burning Library, 1994, etc.). All eight stories here suffer from the weight of dread. In ``Pyrography,'' the fear is that of gay teen Howard, on a camping trip with two straight friends, while ``Running on Empty'' chronicles an American expatriate's visit to his relatives in Texas—a visit plagued by the young man's terror that his HIV infection will explode into full-blown AIDS and leave him at the mercy of the strangers who are his family. In ``An Oracle,'' Ray loses his longtime lover to AIDS, then goes to Greece, where he has a mindless fling with a male hustler. Here, as in most of the pieces, White enumerates the habits, traits, and tendencies of his characters, usually in the past tense, never letting them evolve, never letting them breathe with any verisimilitude. ``She had little sense of the dramatic possibilities her life provided,'' he comments of a woman in ``Running on Empty''—a remark that, unfortunately, could also be made about the author's depiction of all his characters, including those in, say, ``Palace Days,'' in which two New Yorkers move to Paris after the glory days of gay liberation end abruptly with the onset of the AIDS epidemic; they try fatally to keep their voracious and unsafe sexual appetites fed as friends and former lovers die off all around them. Throughout, the volume is filled with intelligence and clever, wry observations (``Like other brilliant men and women he dissolved every solid in a solvent of irony,'' the emotionally barren narrator of the title story says of another narcissistic American in Paris), but these moments are isolated and never connect into a coherent vision as they do so brilliantly in White's nonfiction. A dour side-trip by the well-traveled White.

Pub Date: July 18, 1995

ISBN: 0-679-43476-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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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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