Accomplished and promising.

THE MUSIC OF YOUR LIFE

STORIES

Seven longish tales explore newcomer Rowell’s North Carolina roots—and a world increasingly indistinguishable from the entertainment industry.

The title story is a second-person account of a life so influenced by Lawrence Welk, Batman, and Underdog that the difference between reality and television begins to blur: “And you stand there in the spotlight, holding your props, staring out the window at the streetlamp, not moving, as if waiting for your cue to begin the scene.” The film theme continues in “Spectators in Love,” a story that describes a boy’s fascination with a Mary Poppins LP—a replacement for family—then follows his interest in drama to his career as a film critic, an ultimately hollow life. A New York lesbian takes her new big-city values back home for her brother’s wedding in North Carolina (“The Mother-of-the-Groom and I”), where she’s sure to learn something about competing morals: “But maybe it’s just the way different people have of seeing the same exact thing; one person’s mile is wide, another person’s river is long.” The wildlife of “Wildlife of Coastal Carolina” consists of the crazy cast of characters a man encounters when he wakes up from a self-imposed depression-inspired sleeping binge after a youngster takes his advice to blow the beach community of Duck Island; and, in “Saviors,” a gay conductor is set up on a blind date in what may amount to the best possible example of humanity’s inability to engineer genuine feeling between people. Rowell’s pieces are all probably longer than they need to be, but you sense the author trying out his wings and combining themes for the longer effort sure to come. And even here the sensibility always finds a sweet, poignant note: “He could stand here forever, he thinks . . . And that’s good enough . . . ; the city needs people who are merely content to just look at it, to watch it, to regard it from a distance . . . .”

Accomplished and promising.

Pub Date: May 7, 2003

ISBN: 0-7432-3695-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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