An admirable stab at narrative innovation within the short story form.

Viva Vivaldi: A Novella

Four short stories display a range of subjects and techniques that push the conventional limits of fiction. 

In Clay’s debut collection, a cuckolded man fantasizes about his rival’s demise; a World War II pilot records his experiences fighting the Luftwaffe; a mentally ill man navigates the world the best he can; and a man observes an acquaintance demonstrate on a sidewalk populated by buskers the innate brutality of the human race. Although the stories are not connected (besides by their sections, named for the four seasons of the year), Clay’s voice—and his ability to adapt tone, voice, and style to his subjects—threads them together. The first, “Dread in Madrid” (in the “Fall” section), is the most experimental. Lyrical, associative, and nonlinear, it weaves and snags on bits of musical language and dreamlike images: “Here he is again, but not for a loss or a gain; only pain—blocking oxygen to the brain like a mad drab bard dam. I succumbed to the sin of absinthe, amber ambrosia also, to revel in the liberation of libations. Candor: can opener can open Pandora’s door. Es la hora. We discourse. Stay the course.” As an investigation of one man’s feelings toward the friends who betrayed him, this semi–stream-of-consciousness style fits the subject; although readers may find this introduction to Clay’s collection a bit formidable, their perseverance will be rewarded with more accesible prose in the next few stories. The “Winter” entry’s “Pistol Pete” captures the cadences and observations of a young man contemplating life and death and what it means to fight for one’s country: “Slam the stick forward and out-dive ’em; the ’stang can out-dive ’em all. But you can’t out-dive death.” It’s the most straightforward tale in this collection; the others rely upon subtle shifts in perspective and narrative disruption to achieve their effects. This entertaining, if not ultimately groundbreaking, collection provides readers with a range of fiction’s possibilities.

An admirable stab at narrative innovation within the short story form.

Pub Date: April 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5077-1200-9

Page Count: 92

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2015

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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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