A talent whose best work lies ahead.

APPROXIMATELY HEAVEN

Debut about a man’s wanderings in the wake of a failed marriage.

“But in the nonmedical sense depression means, for me anyway, having the feeling that something you deserve has been taken away from you.” Don’s wife, Mary, wants to leave him because they have a crappy house and it doesn’t look like they’ll ever make a decent home together. Don convinces her to stay while he leaves himself to wander around his hometown for a bit, messing with the likes of Walter and Dove, good old boys who paint trucks with sparkly bicycle paint. Still in love with Mary, Don nevertheless decides to go on a journey with Dove to Mississippi—the two have adventures with dead opossums, pirate ships, casinos, lesbian erotica, and they have accidental conversations on whether they or anyone they know has a soul. They work out bits of nagging rhetoric: “Should I make a new rule not to ever drive when I’m drinking? Everyone knows it’s not good. But on the other hand, how would I get places if I didn’t drive?” Wharton seems to be shooting for the zany southern minimalism of an old instructor: Frederick Barthelme. But while comic in spots and sad in others, he has yet to master that most specialized of subgenres. The nonsequential here that is meant to simulate a world of similarly fractured narrative seems just as often disorganized, and we’re never sure why Don or we have been dragged along on this adventure. In the end, even if Don saves his wife but loses his house, the message fails to jibe convincingly with its own anti-meaning: “But if almost making you was not enough, and you aren’t quite fully real, then my fondness for you is also not real. Or else it is a joke, which makes me a joke as well.”

A talent whose best work lies ahead.

Pub Date: July 15, 2003

ISBN: 0-7432-4446-X

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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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