Engaging tales that should please fans of 20th-century American male authors.

The Boy Who Had A Peach Tree Growing Out Of His Head

...AND OTHER NATURAL PHENOMENA

A collection of short stories examines marriage, fatherhood, and divorce from a variety of angles. 

In this volume, Ackerman (Write Screenplays that Sell, 2014, etc.) explores familiar territory with fresh eyes. His stories follow characters approaching the end of a relationship or enduring its immediate aftermath. Relationships between parent and child, husband and wife, or even a family of rabbits—the author places them all under his microscope precisely at their moments of transformation. The collection strongly recalls the conflicted, masculine themes and anxieties of John Updike, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth, but mostly Updike. Ackerman shares Charles Bukowski’s love of the racetrack (the setting for “Incidental Contact” and “The Dancer Horse”), but not his passion for heavy boozing and prostitution. At times, there are dashes of Haruki Murakami’s surrealism, as in the title story or the opener, “Trim,” in which a woman starts to appear regularly at the protagonist’s house and give him haircuts. In every story, the author walks a thin line between sentimentalism and emotional revelation; the collection slips into both sides equally. “The Dancer Horse,” in which a man goes home with a woman he met at a horse race only to change his mind, takes itself too seriously and fails to feel authentic. “General Doolittle's Raid Over Tokyo” would be an exquisite tale of a marriage if it weren’t wedded to a melodramatic incest plot (incest, oddly, is a fairly common theme in the book). But when Ackerman is at his best, as in “Roof Garden” or “Leash,” he captures an elusive sensation of loss to marvelous effect. The former story follows a man spending the day with his daughter before he tells her about his decision to leave his wife; it would fit nicely in an Updike collection. The latter is a much-welcome deviation from the other tales. “Leash” focuses on a woman who must care for her estranged daughter’s dog after she dies in a car accident. It’s an impressive piece effusing genuine empathy, and it proves Ackerman is capable of more than the male-centered stories he writes so comfortably.

Engaging tales that should please fans of 20th-century American male authors.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-3-639-79489-2

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Hadassa Word Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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