Unsatisfying snapshots of a trapped, unhappy mother and wife.

MACDOUGAL STREET GHOSTS

First novel by playwright/memoirist Anderson (South Mountain Road, 2000) tracks a single mother’s sojourn from New York to L.A. during the turbulent 1960s.

The nostalgic novel moves back in time as Callie Epstein, now in her 50s and a successful L.A. screenwriter, prepares to move from her comfortable Studio City home, where she has single-handedly raised her three children, to a writer’s retreat in the northern California woods. Callie unearths a box of home movies and reminisces about the trying years of her married life. When the kids were small, she and then-husband Irwin, a writer turned advertising executive, lived together in a Greenwich Village apartment. Often exhausted from caring for three small children, with no professional pursuit of her own, the younger Callie is Betty Friedan’s quintessential unfulfilled woman. She visits a succession of psychiatrists and diet doctors, who have nothing better to offer than feel-good pills. Goaded by her female friends to dabble in adultery, Callie encourages the advances of an older neighbor and actor, Sam Messenger. They meet in their shared garden, supposedly haunted by ghosts. The affair allows Callie an emotional outlet from her stifling marriage, but only temporarily. Eventually, the collective strain of drug and alcohol use, husband-swapping and putting on a happy face for the children begins to take its toll. When the rejected Irwin takes up with another woman and cuts off financial support, she reinvents herself in California, secures a job with a Scientology outfit in L.A. and eventually becomes a breadwinner. Anderson relies on telling rather than showing the transformative events of Callie’s life. As a result, the novel feels sketchy; important characters such as Irwin and Sam are left largely undeveloped.

Unsatisfying snapshots of a trapped, unhappy mother and wife.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2924-X

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2005

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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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