ONCE UPON A TIME

In a reprise of old themes, haunts, and ideas, metafiction master Barth (The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, 1991) returns to himself and his native Chesapeake Bay in this fictional memoir of a middle-aged writer embarked on an autumnal cruise. The story is told in the Barthian way, within a frame of another story — in this case, the voyage of the writer's sloop, US, south into the "Chesapeake Triangle" on the Columbus Day weekend of October 1992. And the chosen form in which the author revisits his past and his vocation, writing, is no less structured — an opera in three acts with an overture to set the scene, arias for explication, and a concluding "episong." The author/Barth is accompanied by his beloved second wife, his "Reality Principle," as he sets sail on the fine Saturday afternoon, but as the cruise continues, the writer accidentally loses his beloved pen, "Pumblechook," bought years ago in Charles Dickens's birthplace. Then the weather deteriorates, moods darken, and the US runs aground in an unfamiliar marsh. Seeking help, Barth comes across his twin sister, Jill; his lost pen; and his "counterself," invented guide, and childhood friend, Jerry Schreiber, aka Jay Wordsworth Scribner, who's there to "goose things along and frame and distance the whole show." Virtual reality takes over as the writer, claiming not to be writing an autobiography, but "a kind of ship's log of the Inside Passage," revisits his childhood in Cambridge, Maryland; his first marriage; his college teaching; his writing successes, beginning with The Floating Opera; and his encounter with the woman who became his second wife. What's fiction and perhaps what's not is as tangled as the marsh grasses of Barth's native Dorchester County — and that's part of the fun, but the heavily schematic form, as well as the frequent literary one-upmanship, is more threatening to the venture than any fall storm. Very vintage Barth, and disappointingly so, despite the occasional reminders of a talent once new and stunningly inventive.

Pub Date: May 4, 1994

ISBN: 0316082589

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1994

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more