Like On Becoming a Novelist (p. 428), these lecture/instructions on writing—completed before novelist/teacher Gardner's death last year—involve an often-dense mixture of theory, philosophy, and practical technical matters. Again, Gardner emphasizes that good fiction is a "vivid and continuous dream." He advocates commitment, truth, precise details, and the "principle of profluence" (what moves the narrative along, holds it together)—with brief discussions of subject, plot, character, setting, theme, and style. (The Helen of Troy story is used as a flexible example.) He suggests a genre approach to the beginning writer: not "write what you know," but "write the kind of story you know and like best." He runs through a variety of writing mistakes, things which distract from the "dream": clumsy prose, needless explanation, sentimentality, mannerism, and frigidity (which "occurs in fiction whenever the author reveals. . . that he is less concerned about his characters than he ought to be"). There's brief discussion of a few purely technical matters—vocabulary, sentence structure, poetic rhythm—and more elaborate discussion of plotting: illustration of three different general methods. And, along with a few pages of exercises, there are not-always-coherent comments on contemporary writing trends (metafiction, absurdism, etc.) and reaffirmations of Gardner's "moral" approach to fiction. (In passing, for instance, he decrees that the "nobler" a character's goal, "the more interesting the story"—a dubious formulation.) Repetitious and disorganized, heavier on rhetoric than step-by-step guidance—but sure to interest creative-writing teachers and, to a lesser extent, beginning writers.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 1983

ISBN: 0679734031

Page Count: 236

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1983

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.


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.


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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