This seemingly cynical family tale offers redemption in unexpected places.

OUR 13TH DIVORCE

A literary novel explores more than a dozen mostly failed relationships, a family’s quest for happiness, and the hope of salvation. 

Set on a family farm in rural Georgia, this tale revolves around Jude and her first husband, Buddy Owen, “king of the bad-luck blues,” and their nervous adult son, Harold, who bears the scars of his parents’ failed marriages. Buddy, fresh from his fifth broken marriage, moves into the condo behind Jude’s house and secretly plots to make her fall in love with him again, even though he claims he and Harold are not the kind of “men who beg for miracles.” When Harold brings his high-strung, agyrophobic (afraid of crossing roads), and acerbic fiancee home for Christmas, the family must confront its checkered, courthouse-and-altar-strewn past. The engagement marches on even as Harold’s squeamish fiancee finds a mutilated farm dog and runs away, stealing his car. The novel steps into the past to examine Harold’s first love as well as his parents’ various love affairs. It also looks candidly at the 60-year relationship between Harold’s self-sacrificing grandmother and her husband, who suffers from dementia and verbally abuses her. The periphery is filled with eccentric, broken characters, like Buddy’s brother (who is one of Jude’s later husbands), who fears he will suffer a heart attack if he tries to cross the county line. The story’s clever banter serves as comic relief for its otherwise heavy tone (“ ‘Because it’s no contest that the bad things Harold learned over the years, he learned from you.’ ‘Who said anything about a contest?’ ‘I said it’s no contest’ ”). Cashion (Last Words of the Holy Ghost, 2015, etc.) keeps his touch light when exploring the issues between Buddy and Jude as they dive headfirst into questionable, often absurd relationships with lovers and spouses they later regret. This leaves the idea of Buddy and Jude an obvious, almost inevitable possibility. Bittersweet, understated observations about love and happiness tie together the episodic love affairs of Jude, Buddy, and Harold: “We each insisted that we were happy,” and “I felt what I imagined love must feel like because there was no language to account for it.” The prose boasts poetic descriptions: “The pecan trees were dressed in Spanish moss so thick they looked like great-grandmothers wearing grey dresses.”

This seemingly cynical family tale offers redemption in unexpected places. 

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-60489-184-3

Page Count: 204

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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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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