Lyrical, poignant and pensive; challenging for its abundant Indian-isms (“She told only one girak that she was leaving, a...

NARCOPOLIS

A tightly packed saga, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, of drug-ruled lives in the back streets of Mumbai, which longtime resident (and former addict) Thayil insists on calling Bombay.

Do not call him Ishmael, though he is a castoff and exile. Of the narrator of this descent into the subcontinental demimonde, we know little, at least at first: A disembodied voice says, “since I’m the one telling it and you don’t know who I am, let me say that we’ll get to the who of it but not right now...these are nighttime tales that vanish in sunlight, like vampire dust.” Very well, then. The vampires in question are the denizens of opium dens and brothels in the megacity’s back alleys, along roads choked with feces and animal corpses, with the “poor and deranged.” The time is the 1970s, drifting into later decades, and the narrative spotlight soon falls on one such resident, Dimple, a girlish eunuch who, having grown up in a brothel, is now both a prostitute and a sort of moral center; more important, Dimple expertly packs the opium pipes that are consumed in Rashid’s den, sucked up by an avid clientele. As time goes on, the cast of characters enlarges: One of particular interest is a Chinese exile, Mr. Lee, who has had a dangerous falling out with a prominent leader back home but wants nothing more than to return there, whether alive or otherwise. As time goes on, too, pipes give way to needles, and the city changes its tenor as the drug diet changes, never for the good. Asks Dimple: “Tell me why Chemical is freely available when there are no tomatoes in the market.” The answer: “Because...the city belongs to the politicians and the crooks and some of the politicians are more crooked than the most crooked of the crooks.” Few come into that dark corner of the world willingly, Thayil lets us know, and few ever leave.

Lyrical, poignant and pensive; challenging for its abundant Indian-isms (“She told only one girak that she was leaving, a pocket maar who always smoked at her station.”) but also for its moral bleakness.

Pub Date: April 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59420-330-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

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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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