A complex but emotionally effective tribute to the Irish author.

SAMUEL BECKETT IS CLOSED

A shape-shifting fictional tribute to the novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett (1906-89), borrowing its structure from one of his works.

In 1976, the elliptical, Nobel-winning writer started an unfinished piece, “Long Observation of the Ray,” that proposed a method of writing around nine “themes” in a highly precise way, prescribing the number of sentences in recurring sections. Like Oulipo and other fussy literary organizational schemes, the end product risks becoming cold and abstruse, but Coffey (The Business of Naming Things, 2015, etc.) generates a decent amount of warmth adapting the concept and weaving alternating Beckett-themed story threads, distinguishable by different fonts. Among the strands: a critical essay on Beckett’s work; an unnamed narrator trying to imagine a story that’ll help his lover fall sleep; a fictionalized story of Beckett bemusedly attending a 1964 Mets double-header at Shea Stadium (“There’s a lot of futility in this game,” Beckett notes); and narratives of post–9/11 terrorism, from reports on treatment of Gitmo prisoners to recollections of the 2015 Paris attacks. Coffey doesn’t labor to make each section connect in obvious ways, but over the course of the book the fragmentary pieces help construct an overall defense of Beckett as more of a moral author than he’s given credit for. The abstract fatalism that defined works like Waiting for Godot was shaped by Beckett’s experience of World War II, Coffey argues, pushing him to contemplate both a sense of defeat and the need to press on after catastrophe, “an aesthetic credo that secured the moral ground enabling art to continue after Auschwitz.” Deep familiarity with Beckett's work isn’t essential to appreciate Coffey’s, but an affinity for Beckett’s worldview and gamesmanship helps; Coffey sustains a dark, contemplative mood but leaves a few cracks for humor and optimism to enter.

A complex but emotionally effective tribute to the Irish author.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-94486-959-5

Page Count: 160

Publisher: OR Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 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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