A chatty, self-absorbed, you-know-what-I-mean style isn’t enough to keep Lucinda from being continually outclassed by the...

THE QUALITY OF LIFE REPORT

A half-successful debut novel from essayist Daum (My Misspent Youth, 2001) follows a lifestyle-obsessed Manhattan TV producer as she relocates to a bland midwestern prairie town.

When her apartment rent abruptly triples, Lucinda Trout, 29, figures it’s time to make a consciousness-raising move to Prairie City (“Open Arms, Open Minds”), a place she visited briefly for a segment on methamphetamine-addicted housewives for her vapid, early-morning TV show, New York Up Early. Lucinda is fed up with her usual journalistic work, aimed at neurotic New Yorkers—segments about thong underwear and adopted Chinese babies on the Upper West Side—and demoralized also both by the inanities of her bitchy boss, Fay Figaro, and by the competition for the hopelessly few available men in the city. So she proposes a “Quality of Life Report” that will cover an entire year in Prairie City, a segment that would allow New Yorkers to indulge in fantasies of the good life with cheap, spacious apartments, abundant “bad boys” to date, and big parties (in barns) costing under $300. But only in theory does the move satisfy Lucinda’s yearning to go in a “serious, more humanitarian direction.” She taps into the local feminist circuit of recovering, empowering, chain-smoking, aging harridans; finds herself the romantic interest of numerous, albeit unsavory, men; and even moves into a genuine farmhouse with her hickish Sam Shepard fantasy, Mason. Trouble is that taciturn woodsman Mason, who shares custody of his three children by three different lovers, ends up addicted to meth while Lucinda’s project about the heartland idyll gradually comes to be seen as a cynical exploitation of the well-meaning natives. And when outraged boss Faye arrives to redirect Lucinda’s shoots in order to eliminate any fat, badly dressed people from appearing on camera, the reader winces at the collapse of Daum’s skittish irony

A chatty, self-absorbed, you-know-what-I-mean style isn’t enough to keep Lucinda from being continually outclassed by the forgiving Prairie City locals.

Pub Date: May 12, 2003

ISBN: 0-670-03213-1

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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