Julavits does everything she can to turn readers off. But that may be her point.

THE EFFECT OF LIVING BACKWARDS

Following her seriously dark first novel (The Mineral Palace, 2000), Julavits takes a real risk with this black comedy about an airplane hijacking, not exactly the subject to tickle most funny bones these days.

Having survived to become a student herself at the International Institute for Terrorist Studies, Alice recounts her hostage experience when Bruno, incongruously a blind man, and two inept cohorts take over the plane she and her sister Edith are passengers on, flying to Edith’s wedding in Morocco. The story is as much about sibling love and rivalry as about the ethical issues raised by terrorism—the women’s mutual devotion is balanced by their intense competitiveness for attention. As for the terrorists, it isn’t at all clear how dangerous they are, or whether the hijacking is some kind of elaborate hoax. The one hostage who’s shot—Edith thought the guns weren’t loaded—had already died of a heart attack. Although the other passengers seem frightened, Alice is never sure who’s real. She and Edith are genuinely scared even as they vie for Bruno’s attention. Edith uses sex. Alice, since she’s fluent in obscure languages, becomes the “the conduit” between Bruno and the hostage negotiator, who turns out to be Bruno’s brother. Apparently, these two siblings have followed different theories of fighting terrorism, and the outcome of the hijacking will determine who was right. Though ongoing banter between characters is meant to be both comic and profound, Julavits underlines her themes too heavily, especially the untrustworthiness of reality. The playing out of the hijacking itself is almost dull as hostages are released and the perpetrators disperse, allowing for no dramatic closure, so that the mystery of what really happened remains behind. In contrast to Ann Patchett’s humanistic view of the hostage experience in Bel Canto, Julavits’s brittle tone and edgy irony allow no reader empathy.

Julavits does everything she can to turn readers off. But that may be her point.

Pub Date: July 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-399-15049-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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