There's a little of J.P. Donleavy's Ginger Man in Ong's William, but Fixer Chao is nevertheless an original and perversely...


A complex and troubling portrayal of alienation develops surely from this lively and often very funny first novel by a MacArthur-winning playwright and actor.

Narrator and protagonist William Narciso Paulhina is a Filipino New Yorker "working" as a gay male hustler when he meets Shem C., a Jewish novelist who offers him an intriguing new fictional life. Though initially wary, William agrees to pose as "Master Chao" from Hong Kong, an expert in the Eastern holistic discipline of feng shui ("the merging of intuition with common sense"), the art of creating, through meditation and renunciation, a more benign personal environment. Neurotic and suggestible New Yorkers are easily fleeced, and William (a self-created intellectual of sorts, inspired by Agatha Christie novels and Kurosawa films) discovers a talent for duplicity that enables him to misuse the tactics of feng shui ("taking the faith and warping it for disastrous ends") against the complacent socialites (mainly his in-laws) on whom Shem has (for reasons only partially revealed to William) sworn revenge. It's a nifty plot idea, and Ong fills the story with vividly sketched and functional supporting characters, ranging from the street people who are William's old acquaintances to the topmost of Manhattan's upper crust, and including William's countrywoman Preciosa, a failed film actress and, interestingly, his alter ego; a 90-year-old "Dowager from whom he has much to learn; and Kendo, the beautiful young man whose seductive presence attracts William's lustful attention and propels him toward the explosive climax. And in its moving dénouement, set in Los Angeles, whence William has fled his outraged "clients," Ong brilliantly conveys both William's exhausted regret and self-hatred and the unquenchable vitality of his irrepressible survival instinct.

There's a little of J.P. Donleavy's Ginger Man in Ong's William, but Fixer Chao is nevertheless an original and perversely entertaining creation: a luminous picaresque with a distinctive mixture of farce and savagery.

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-374-15575-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2001

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.


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.


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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