Decidedly one-note, however richly sung.

THE WAKE

A cellist attending the funeral of her renowned ex-husband is beset by conflicting emotions, in this impressionistic fiction by award-winning Mexican author Glantz (Family Tree, 1991, etc.).

Nora Garcia has not visited the dusty village where she lived with Juan, a world-class pianist, since their divorce many years before, but news of his heart attack and death has brought her there one last time. Estranged from old friends attending the wake, unknown to the others, Nora wanders between the garden and the living room where Juan’s corpse lies, overhearing mourners wonder aloud whom “they should offer their heartfelt condolences to.” Thus isolated, she remembers the past she shared with Juan, the music they loved and the pontifications he often delivered late at night on subjects such as the careers of Giovanni Pergolesi and Glenn Gould. Very little happens here beyond the wake, the funeral procession (complete with mariachis and a beggar with a bandaged foot) up a rocky path to a small church, and the burial. Otherwise, the exposition is confined to Nora’s circular meditations on, among many other things, the physiology of myocardial infarction and its metaphorical extension, a broken heart. Sometimes this theme-and-variation technique succeeds, and the story evokes an eloquent mood of loss as it considers the power of memory as filtered through grief. More often, however, Nora’s mental meanderings, especially when unnecessarily protracted (subjects include John Singer Sergeant’s portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner and Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot), seem to reflect the author’s interests rather than the development of her character’s epiphany. Furthermore, the indulgent misuse of colons and parentheses, scattered annoyingly throughout the text like inscrutable emotions, undermines the narrative authority necessary when asking a reader to navigate a work cast entirely in stream-of-consciousness.

Decidedly one-note, however richly sung.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-931896-23-2

Page Count: 124

Publisher: Curbstone Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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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