A first novel from poet/nonfiction writer Galvin (The Meadow, 1992, etc.) about the ongoing destruction of western rangelands and the decline of the old, land-centered way of life. Mike Arans, a self-reliant cattleman, finds Meriweather Snipes, a canny, repellent land speculator and developer, stampeding cattle that have strayed onto the developer’s land and, in a fit of anger, chases him. It’s hard to say if what happens next is murder or an accident, but Mike, fearing the worst, takes his favorite horse and rides off into the remaining wilderness areas of Wyoming. His good friend Oscar, a bright, stubborn, struggling cattleman like Mike, does what he can to help Mike in his attempts to elude the law, and Galvin shuttles back and forth between Mike’s cross-country flight and the history of the high plains over the past several decades as seen through Mike and Oscar’s subsequent—and wrenching—attempts to make a go of cattle-raising. The economy has worked both to bankrupt small cattlemen and inspire a new and devastating land rush. The “land pimps” (Galvin’s phrase for developers) buy up large swaths of land from exhausted ranchers and turn it into small parcels to be peddled to ignorant romantics looking for a chance to live out their glossy vision of the West. But without the ranchers to maintain drainage, the little water available evaporates, trees die, and soil blows away. The new settlers resent the old ones, with their cattle and the fences vital to managing the range, and violence follows. Galvin works in this sorry history of the modern West skillfully, without slowing or diluting the drama of his story. His evocation of the hard specifics of ranching life and the satisfactions of physical labor, and the lyrical precision of his portrait of the western plains, are distinctive and deeply moving. Part celebration and part angry lament, Fencing the Sky is a memorable debut, the most ambitious and original novel about the modern West to have appeared in some time.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 1999

ISBN: 0-8050-6220-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1999

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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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