A moving tale that goes on far too long: it ends up sounding as sad and rambling as a drunk’s confession.

THE OUTSIDE OF AUGUST

A wistful family portrait by Hershon (Swimming, 2001) follows two Long Island children through adolescence to adulthood as they struggle to make sense of their parents’ unhappy marriage.

No matter what Tolstoy thought, unhappy families are made miserable by pretty much the same things—money, drugs, or sex. Sometimes madness clouds the picture, too, and this seems like a real possibility in the case of the Greens of Long Island. Alan and Charlotte are a suave, well-educated couple (he a neurobiologist, she an artist) who raised two fine children (son August, daughter Alice) in their tastefully decorated colonial house. Or, at least, they started to: from the time the kids could make their own breakfasts, Charlotte went traveling, by herself, on vaguely defined (and often unannounced) “business trips” that usually lasted several months or more. Alan, unhappy about these disappearances but powerless to keep Charlotte home, retreated into his work and often spent twelve hours a day at the lab. He became even more distant after Charlotte died under mysterious circumstances when the children were still in their teens. Given their start in life, it’s not a surprise that neither August nor Alice fits in comfortably with the suburban world around them. August left home early, became a surfer, and traveled the world looking for the perfect wave; Alice moved to Manhattan and became a kind of professional grad student. Their father’s death, now, brings them together for the first time in 15 years, but, nevertheless, August can’t stay put long and flees without an explanation the day after the funeral. Incensed, Alice tracks him to Mexico (where he’s living as a kind of beachfront squatter) and tries to learn what he’s hiding from. Instead, she learns what drove her mother away nearly two decades before.

A moving tale that goes on far too long: it ends up sounding as sad and rambling as a drunk’s confession.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-345-43915-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 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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