An uneven collection that would have benefited from more careful culling.

PLEASANT DRUGS

STORIES

A batch of lackluster coming-of-age stories mingle with sharply observed tales of contemporary angst in Kulpa’s first collection.

The title story, the book’s strongest, deals with two brothers who drink too much. It’s Christmas Eve, and Scotty, who has been sober for ten months, is home with his wife Stephanie and their two daughters. His brother Bill, who thrives on drama, calls and insists that Scotty meet him at a pizza place. Bill has discovered his ex-wife in bed with a much younger man and he has retaliated by taking their 18-month-old son. Scotty drives with him to the house of a friend who can take care of the baby, then to their hometown. There the brothers take a trip down memory lane and end up in a bar where customers knew their father, who jumped out of a window on Christmas Eve ten years before. Another intriguing story, “Maintaining,” offers a look at the dramas inside a drug and alcohol treatment clinic, told from the perspective of a receptionist. A half-dozen stories tread more familiar ground—losing love, finding love—without any particular distinction. “Have You Seen Her” is an overly lengthy search for a lost love whose photo the protagonist thinks he has spotted in a Lower East Side deli; “Someone You Don’t Remember” is a too-brief sketch about a former lover; “Elaine, I Love You,” finds a woman remembering her crush on a Polish sailor who docked in Newport when she was 13. “Cristina in Another Country” is a more daring and more effective tale of a lost love, told in fragments by a college student whose road trip is detoured to Mexico. The last story, “The Salvation Café,” is a mere paragraph long, and not a very interesting paragraph at that.

An uneven collection that would have benefited from more careful culling.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2005

ISBN: 0-922811-62-8

Page Count: 232

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2005

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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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