Unequal to Scott’s best work (The Manikin, 1996, etc.), but her voice remains one of contemporary fiction’s most eloquent...

LIBERATION

Scott continues to swim against the literary mainstream with her seventh novel, set on the island of Elba and in the mind and memory of an elderly Italian-American woman.

In 1944, she was ten-year-old Adriana Nardi, the sheltered daughter of a wealthy family whose comfortable estate (“La Chiatta”) was a safe haven during climactic battles between Nazi and Fascist troops and the Allied armies pledged to liberate Elba (a storied place known as Napoleon’s place of exile). In the present day, she is Newark matron Mrs. Robert Rundel, who on the day after her 70th birthday, suffers a pulmonary embolism while aboard a train approaching New York’s Penn Station—as she indulges emotional reminiscences of that long-ago “liberation.” Scott juxtaposes expertly the thoughts of impulsive young Adriana and those of the Senegalese soldier she finds, hurt and hiding: Senegalese teenager Amdu Diop, who had become separated from his regiment, and who is—at Adriana’s urging—given shelter at La Chiatta. It’s a rich premise, but the story’s action lags for too long behind redundant (albeit vivid and credible) declarations of Adriana’s adoring fascination with the dark exotic stranger, and Amdu’s charmingly naïve envisionings of himself as a potential humanitarian and savior (perhaps even a saint), whose ineptness as a fighting man threaten his exile from the virtual Eden that is liberated Elba. The narrative is enriched by Scott’s renderings of the thoughts of intelligent Nardi matriarch Giulia and of her inanely self-centered brother Mario (whose actions precipitate tragic misunderstandings). But similar use of Mrs. Rundel’s fellow train passengers amount to no more than pointless distractions. Amdu and Adriana are nevertheless powerfully appealing figures, and they alone (and together) make this ungainly novel well worth reading.

Unequal to Scott’s best work (The Manikin, 1996, etc.), but her voice remains one of contemporary fiction’s most eloquent and essential.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2005

ISBN: 0-316-01053-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 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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