A writer unafraid to scour the cringing hearts of the high-middle-aged.


The sorry sequel to Svenson’s debut, Washed Up with a Broken Heart in Rock Hall (2004), begins less than a year after Budge Moss’s wife leaves him forlorn and loveless on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Why would a writer in his mid-50s dumped by his wife of 26 years—an attractive lady who grandly outearns him and has obviously outgrown him—agree to drive across country with her? Herein lie our ungainly protagonist’s attractions: Budge is intelligent, sensitive, and vulnerable, like most divorcées in fashionable novels, except that this one is male. And, after some months alone at the beach with his cat, he does find a generous, warm woman who burns for him in the sack, this being the comely golfer Matty, who has lots of money and a house that Budge is free to share—although she’s a bit coy about her age. How old is she? Budge has to know. The problem is that he doesn’t feel love for Matty (or her house, in its gated community), and his marriage still haunts him: “He’s not free of its residual gravity,” says Svenson, in his smart-writerly tone. So, when the soon-to-be-ex-wife approaches Budge for a road trip, he jumps aboard, and the two spend days driving to California, grating on each other’s nerves just like in the golden days as a married couple. Svenson’s strength as a novelist is his hang-all candidness, especially about matters sexual. As he describes our intrepid Moss: “A dangly old penis that still rose to the occasion, but had to be coaxed to its seedy thump, more dribble than spurt, and afterwards was as useless as vermiform appendix—for a good 12 hours or more.” Soon-to-be-ex actually invites him into her hotel bed (“Oh all right! Do it and get it over with!”) with such breathtaking callousness that old Budge will win miles of sympathy from even the stoniest feminist reader.

A writer unafraid to scour the cringing hearts of the high-middle-aged.

Pub Date: March 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-57962-115-5

Page Count: 173

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2004

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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