A dense, sometimes claustrophobic novel that flirts with the boundary between memory and invention.

PANTHERS AND THE MUSEUM OF FIRE

When her childhood friend dies, leaving behind a manuscript she is both reluctant and compelled to read, Jen Craig experiences the literary breakthrough she has waited for her entire life.

The main character in this novella of interiors shares a name with the book’s author. She also shares a city—Sydney, Australia—and an impassioned compulsion to write. In these ways, this unusual book has a relationship with autofiction along the lines of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series or Teju Cole’s Open City, sharing a thematic focus on the sources of writerly inspiration, ultimately seeming to propose that all subjects are really reflections of our selves. Jenny, the character, lives in Glebe, a suburb of Sydney. One Monday morning, she leaves her apartment to walk to a cafe on Crown Street in Surry Hills, some two and a half miles away. The goal of this trip is to meet Pamela—the older sister of Jen’s recently deceased childhood friend, Sarah—in order to return Sarah’s unpublished manuscript, titled Panthers and The Museum of Fire, which Pamela gave to Jen at her sister’s wake and then requested back, unread. As Jen walks, she thinks. As she thinks, she carries the reader through the intervening years, from her childhood friendship with Sarah to Jen’s own anorexia to a religious conversion instigated by Pamela; from her “one real friendship” with her college friend Raf to her father’s consuming failure to write the “one great work that everyone continues to ridicule him about” while he slowly succumbs to cancer; from her own sense of her grandiosity and potential to a lingering dread that even the closest people in her life ridicule and shun her. The distinct scenes of this book—the “house party” at which Jen finds religion in her youth, a date with Raf some years earlier, Sarah’s wake two days prior, and a dinner with Raf only the night before—weave in and out of Jen’s progress across the meticulously rendered landscape of the city proper as her thoughts spiral, double-back, wallow, and soar. Sarah’s book, which is named for a road sign on the outskirts of Sydney, is simultaneously “nothing at all” and the instigating event for Jen’s own literary awakening—a book that gets to the “quick” of things and is, in fact, nothing but quick. It frees Jen from her own foundering attempts to write and shows her a new way forward. The result is the book the reader now holds in their hands four years after the day that Jen, the character, first set off on her book-length walk.

A dense, sometimes claustrophobic novel that flirts with the boundary between memory and invention.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1557-1344-448-6

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Zerogram Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

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GOLDEN GIRL

From the greenroom of the afterlife—make that Benjamin Moore "Parsley Snips" green—a newly dead Nantucket novelist watches life unfold without her.

In her 27th novel, Hilderbrand gives herself an alter ego—beloved beach-novel author Vivian Howe—sends her out for a morning jog, and immediately kills her off. A hit-and-run driver leaves Vivi dead by the side of the road, where her son's best friend discovers her body—or was he responsible for the accident? Vivi doesn't know, nor does she know yet that her daughter Willa is pregnant, or that her daughter Carson is having a terribly ill-advised affair, or that her son, Leo, has a gnawing secret, or that her ex is getting tired of the girl he dumped her for. She will discover all this and more as she watches one last summer on Nantucket play out under the tutelage of Martha, her "Person," who receives her in the boho-chic waiting room of the Beyond. Hermès-scarved Martha explains that Vivi will have three nudges—three chances to change the course of events on Earth and prevent her bereaved loved ones from making life-altering mistakes. She will also get to watch the publication of what will be her last novel, titled Golden Girl, natch, and learn the answers to two questions: Will the secret about her own life she buried in this novel come to light (who cares, really—she's dead now), and will it hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list (now there's an interesting question). She'll also get to see that one of her biggest wrongs is posthumously righted and that her kids have learned her most important lesson. As Willa says to Carson, "You know how she treats the characters in her books? She gives them flaws, she portrays them doing horrible things—but the reader loves them anyway. Because Mom loves them. Because they’re human.”

If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-31642008-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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