TWENTY GRAND

AND OTHER TALES OF LOVE AND MONEY

Curtis explores subjects mundane and fantastical in her first book, a collection of stories.

The subtitle promises “tales of love and money,” and when she actually focuses on money and its absence, or on the forces that bring people together and push them apart, Curtis is outstanding. In “Hungry Self” and “Summer, with Twins,” she renders the fraught monotony and borderline poverty of waitressing in exquisite detail, and, in the former story, she captures the dumb grandiloquence and frequent hopelessness of adolescent longing in one magnificent line: “I was terribly in love with him, but we were separated by race and by the fact that he hated me.” “The Alpine Slide,” the story of a girl's first job at a doomed summer attraction, covers similar ground and is similarly excellent, and the title story is a bleak, tender, well-crafted look at a dissolute family losing its one chance at solvency and cohesion. These are the stories that first appeared in publications like the New Yorker and Harper’s, and it's easy to see why. Then, there are the other stories: the one about a family deciding which of their number will be taken by monsters, the one about outwitting werewolves, the halting portrait of a vaguely dystopian marriage. These stories fall into an unfortunate subgenre of current speculative fiction in which a wacky concept and ironic execution take the place of real storytelling. They fail to please not just because they do not fulfill the subtitle's promise of thematic unity, but also because they're just not very good. Curtis would have been wise to delay publication until she had a sufficient number of first-rate stories that reflect her considerable talent.

A disjointed debut.

Pub Date: July 3, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-06-117309-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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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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