ON WITH THE STORY

STORIES

A collection of 12 linked and also discrete stories—Barth's first since Chimera (1972)—that may also be a speculative autobiographical novel, from the reigning master of postmodernist metafiction (Once Upon a time, 1994, etc.). Its framework is a vacation trip taken by a middle-age married couple who, we soon realize, are fictionalizing their life together and shared (and differing) ideas about the fiction-making process itself, exchanging stories that are punctuated by their delighted "pillow talk," along with other digressions and interruptions. The stories are often brilliant, invariably quirky riffs on the previously recycled matter of Barth's life, literary vocation, and noodling with various literary-theoretical concepts. Academe looms large, as do the pleasures of life in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay region and the dependable company of a sensitive soulmate acquired in a happy second marriage. The pieces are, more often than not, forbiddingly intricate, festooned not just with digressive tomfoolery but with flash-forwards and alternative twistings and turnings. "And Then One Day . . .," for instance, moves from the picture of a moribund old man keeping himself briefly alive by telling stories to a recounting of the possible futures endured by his daughter, a writer who may or may not end up winning a Nobel Prize. The clever title story employs Zeno's Paradox and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle to characterize the happenstance relationship between its author, reading his work in an airline magazine, while in flight next to a woman who's also reading his story, and seeing in its heroine's experiences the pattern of her own life. It goes like that: one demonstration after another that "in physics and fiction alike . . . alternative worldlines are not only imaginable but . . . quite possible." The theoretical stuffiness is, thankfully, modified by precision of statement and appealingly comic invention. Alternately, as it were, cloyingly self-absorbed and uniquely inventive—and very much the same kind of thing Barth has been doing for what seems like decades.

Pub Date: July 10, 1996

ISBN: 0-316-08263-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1996

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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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