FOUR LETTERS OF LOVE

A remarkable first novel from Williams—whose four previous books, written with his wife, have chronicled contemporary Irish life (The Luck of the Irish, 1995, etc.)—offers a powerful portrait of tragedy and of the redemption offered by love. Nicholas was a normal Dublin 12-year-old when his civil- servant father came home to announce he'd forsaken his career to become a painter. The full implications of that decision became clear shortly thereafter: Abandoning wife and son, the artist went off to the Irish countryside for the summer. After two summers of this and no income, Nicholas's mother committed suicide. Father and son struggled on, making one memorable painting trip to the western coast, after which cows destroyed many of the paintings, leaving the artist in doubt of his vocation. Years pass. Nicholas's own civil service career is cut short when his father burns his paintings, their house, and himself. Only one painting remains, a work that had been purchased and given as an award to a poet living on one of the western isles, and Nicholas goes to see whether he can buy it back. The poet's family is also familiar with despair: The only son, a musical prodigy, suffered a seizure one day while playing for his dancing sister, Isabel, and for years has been unable to play or speak. Isabel, blaming herself for his affliction, grew wild in her mainland convent school and threw away a good chance at a university education to marry a coarse, unprosperous tweed merchant whom she doesn't love. Nicholas arrives on the scene the day after Isabel's wedding, and his presence magically, inexplicably, begins to cause a shift in the prevailing winds of fortune. While a wealth of impressions linger from this debut, two words come most often to mind in describing it: Spellbinding. Brilliant.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-374-15817-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1997

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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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