A fine collection of tales, as unnerving as they are entertaining.

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STORIES

The blurry line between strangers and intimates is drawn, waveringly policed, and transgressed in these short stories.

Walker (At Danceteria and Other Stories, 2016) confronts his mostly female protagonists with new and disturbing relationships that lead to upsetting renegotiations of their lives. A wife discovers that her vain, unmarried mother gave up another daughter for adoption, and that sister reappears to reclaim a family life that never happened; a socially phobic woman weathers agonizing parties and then has to choose between a gorgeous new boyfriend and her trusty Toyota; a mother finds that she has more in common with her bitchy teen daughter than she would like, including their taste in men; and a Japanese salaryman in Singapore has his life destroyed when his lover’s roommate catches him using the ladies’ room. In addition, dowdy secretaries at a PR firm bristle at their hot new office mate and plot to hoist her by her own sex appeal; a woman restarts her life repeatedly in different corners of the world but is dogged by violent relationships with men; and a blocked writing professor rustles up material by stealing the ideas of her best student and starting an affair with a colleague whose wife is dying of cancer. Several tales feature gay men immersed in rough trade: A high school locker-room rape gets reprised later in a porn star’s edgy scenes; a male prostitute describes the prosaic realities of his job as the tricks turn darker. Walker’s scintillating stories crackle with frank sexuality and deadpan comedy. There’s a satirical edge to many of them, but they are always grounded in prose that’s realistic but extraordinarily vivid and even nightmarish. “When the nurse handed her the wrinkled little thing, its skin so much darker than hers and Takahiko’s, the baby opened its mouth and emitted a horrible shriek like a preening beastling, its eyes stapled shut with lines of mucus,” Walker writes in the eerie “Why Burden a Baby with a Body?” In this story, a young Japanese mother neglects her squalling newborn to obsess over a pretty, twinkling fantasy child in an online role-playing game. The result is a deep dissection of lives where the barriers to human connection can take on sometimes-comic, sometimes-monstrous proportions.

A fine collection of tales, as unnerving as they are entertaining.

Pub Date: May 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-59021-678-1

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Lethe Press

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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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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