Readers willing to immerse themselves in sorrow, and sometimes in narratives that twist and shimmer before taking definite...

THE WHOLE WORLD AT ONCE

Pringle (The Floating Order, 2009) works nine variations on the theme of grief in the wrenching stories of her second collection.

Her protagonists, often children and often unnamed, live lonely days in the small towns or isolated farmhouses of the upper Midwest, flattened by heat in the summer and risking death from exposure in the winter. Shell-shocked by loss, haunted by ghosts and the eerie birds that reappear in all the stories, they make choices that send them deeper into danger. One girl, whose sister ended up dead in a pond after last year’s agricultural fair, roams country roads alone at night picking up aluminum cans and finds a wounded carnie. Another girl dodges the mines planted in their backyard by a brother damaged by the war in the Middle East, and another deals in her own way with a mother who has just died from a brain aneurysm. A boy, who nearly dies in a drainage ditch when he goes out of the house in the morning before his parents are awake, finds himself haunted by his own ghost; a man whose wife has just suffered a miscarriage finds an eerie collection of jars of dead aquarium fish in the house from which his grandfather is moving to a retirement community. The characters dream intensely, waking in terror, and the stories themselves have a dreamlike intensity heightened by Pringle’s lyrical voice. Though the theme of all the stories is the same, and many of the characters have a family resemblance, the stories don’t feel repetitious: they remind the reader instead of how many strange shapes grief can take and how universal a human experience it is.

Readers willing to immerse themselves in sorrow, and sometimes in narratives that twist and shimmer before taking definite shape, will find reflected in these stories the unsteady path of coming back to life—or not—after loss.

Pub Date: May 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-943665-58-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Vandalia Press/West Virginia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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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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