Insufficient plot here, and the argument is overinsistent and oppressive.

THE ENGLISH DISEASE

A skimpy narrative and redundant emphases on the burdens and mysteries of Judaism drain the life out of Skibell’s initially promising second (after A Blessing on the Moon, 1997).

The story begins smartly, in the American Southwest, where academic and musicologist Charles Belski is dragged into vacationing by his very blond and Waspish wife Isabelle. Charles, who narrates, is a petulant perfectionist whose morose wit—compounded of his culture’s and his family’s generational sufferings, and also his own innate fatalism—often makes him sound like Humbert Humbert inveighing against American trash culture. He’s “a typical male epithalamiophobe” nevertheless essentially happily married; a reluctant father; and a theoretical atheist who logically asserts that “one needn’t believe in God in order to feel abandoned by Him.” As long as Skibell is winging it back and forth between Charles’s state of suspended bilious animation and flashbacks showing us how he got to be that way, The English Disease (which malady, incidentally, is reputedly melancholy) is enormously winning. Then Charles travels to Krakow to attend a Wagner conference, thence to the Auschwitz Museum, accompanied by his obese, stentorian colleague Leibowitz—and the novel devolves into a series of declamations and meditations on anti-Semitism, the ordeal of the European Jews, and the absurdity of embracing ideologies. Skibell tries to keep it moving, but the poisonously gregarious Leibowitz bores us almost as much as he annoys Belski, and things grow awfully static. Skibell recovers somewhat by returning Charles to the terrors of domesticity, and concludes with an interesting (if overlong) account of the energetic, ever suggestible Isabelle’s passionate conversion. It’s a shame she wasn’t around in Poland, for Isabelle is easily the most engaging character here.

Insufficient plot here, and the argument is overinsistent and oppressive.

Pub Date: June 6, 2003

ISBN: 1-56512-257-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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