A fine novel very much in the American vein, and a quantum leap forward for the gifted Goldberg.

WICKETT’S REMEDY

The 1918 influenza pandemic is the background for this absorbing successor to Bee Season (2000).

Irish-American Lydia Kilkenny moves up from her “Southie” (i.e., South Boston) neighborhood after marrying timid medical student Henry Wickett. When Henry forsakes his studies and returns to clerical drudgery while developing a health-giving elixir (the eponymous Remedy), Lydia senses trouble—but she agrees to concoct a pleasant-tasting recipe. America enters World War I, Henry tries and fails to enlist, and dies when an “unseasonable flu” strikes Boston—having first formed a partnership with entrepreneur-distributor Quentin Driscoll (who has other plans for Wickett’s Remedy). First returning to her Southie family, Lydia watches numbly as friends and relatives die, volunteers at a local hospital, then works as an untrained nurse at Gallups Island in Boston Harbor, where doctors study the virulent influenza strain by injecting it into volunteers: inmates from nearby Deer Island Naval Prison. Goldberg’s opulent narrative traces the fulfillment of Lydia’s deepest fears, and numerous other voices chime in: those of soldiers and sailors sworn to defeat the Kaiser; ordinary citizens enduring both the war and the epidemic; the numerous dead (rendered as acutely dramatic marginal commentary); and revelations of the history of “QD Soda” (the soft drink Driscoll derived from Lydia’s recipe), its founder’s pathetic decline and his successor’s evasive criminality. Only the QD Soda passages (of which there are far too many) misfire in this rich historical re-creation whose energy and ingenuity evoke memories of E.L. Doctorow’s classic Ragtime, Steven Millhauser’s Pulitzer-winner, Martin Dressler, and Thomas McMahon’s forgotten picaresque mini-masterpiece McKay’s Bees.

A fine novel very much in the American vein, and a quantum leap forward for the gifted Goldberg.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2005

ISBN: 0-385-51324-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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