Nicholson’s sometimes-sharp lines don’t make up for thin characters, worn subjects, and a way-too-clever narrative construct.

THE HOLLYWOOD DODO

Pretentious comic novel about a London doctor who can’t escape a life that’s too much like a bad movie.

Having satirized the literary world in Bedlam Burning (2002), the prolific Nicholson here turns his eye on Los Angeles and Hollywood, doing so by intertwining three narratives. The first follows William Draper through squalid 17th-century London as he seeks to mate a dodo and thus preserve an endangered species. The other two, set in present-day LA, concern, first, Rick McCartney, a would-be auteur who wants to film a screenplay about dodos, which, it eventually turns out, consists of the Draper tale. Flying into LA, McCartney has a panic attack and seeks treatment from another passenger, Dr. Henry Cadwallader, the subject of the third narrative. The doctor accompanies his daughter Dorothy, who is heading to a screen test. Cadwallader expresses a wearying disdain for just about everything and everyone, particularly movie clichés, and, unsurprisingly, he finds his experience in LA taking the shape of a tawdry B-movie. As Dorothy flunks her bid for stardom, he kills time playing the part of a house-hunter, thereby getting involved with a real-estate agent who’s really a failed actress. Cadwallader’s acting and demeanor so fascinate the talent agent who rejected Dorothy that the agent insists he go into movies. So does Rick, who casts the doctor in his film of the Draper story. A porn star, Rick, Dorothy, the real-estate agent, and a mechanical dodo end up poolside at a fake Tudor mansion, all of them running around “like headless chickens (or dodos).” The point, according to the real-estate agent: “Everybody in this town is pretending to be something they’re not.”

Nicholson’s sometimes-sharp lines don’t make up for thin characters, worn subjects, and a way-too-clever narrative construct.

Pub Date: June 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-7432-5779-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2004

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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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