Duncan has comic energy to spare but no clear idea of what to do with it. The result reads like a promising first draft.

I, LUCIFER

The Devil is on vacation, sampling life in London and reflecting on some of his career highlights, in this grab bag from the British Duncan (first US publication).

Lucifer addresses you directly in an intermittent monologue, and his voice will either pull you in or turn you off. It’s flip and in-your-face as it mixes insults and endearments: somewhat like stand-up comedy. But there’s also a smidgen of plot. Gabriel brings Lucifer an offer from God: the chance to redeem himself if he agrees to live as a human. There will be a one-month trial period. Lucifer accepts. He has no interest in redemption (are you kidding?), but a month in a human body will be a great vacation and a nice respite from the pain that racks him unceasingly. (Or so we are told in passing. For a real taste of Hell, read Stanley Elkin’s marvelous The Living End.) As Lucifer enters the body of Declan Gunn (note the anagram), he experiences sensuous paradise. Now he can taste an ice cream, smell the roses (and the sewers), and scramble his brains with drugs and booze. This Gunn is a sad sack, a failed writer on the verge of suicide, an ugly little monkey to book, but Lucifer enjoys visiting his girlfriends. There’s nothing devilish about these escapades. A visit to the office of Declan’s agent, where he manhandles a rival, could be any young writer’s fantasy; sessions with movie people are routine spoofs of Hollywood. Yet there are also those memories of career highlights (the original rebellion in heaven, the temptation in the Garden), as well as long, quite serious riffs on the Inquisition and the Third Reich, both splendid examples of the systematic evil Lucifer sees as a growth industry. Missing, though, is any internal dynamic to reconcile the snide and the solemn.

Duncan has comic energy to spare but no clear idea of what to do with it. The result reads like a promising first draft.

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-8021-4014-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2003

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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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