NO MAN'S LAND

Hill, author of superior mysteries (Ruling Passion, etc.) and so-so thrillers (The Spy's Wife, etc.), offers a much more ambitious novel this time: a tale of three WW I deserters, 1916-1918, that's fairly strong as melodrama, fairly weak when it strains for psychosexual insights and thematic resonance. The British deserter is naive farm-lad Josh, who becomes useless as a soldier after witnessing the court-martial/execution of his beloved brother (who refused to follow kamikaze orders in the Battle of the Somme); unfortunately, he's more a clumsy metaphor than a believable character—especially when his tears are described as "last fragile symbols of purity and innocence in a world of the broken, the befouled and the betrayed." The German deserter is Sergeant Lothar, an aristocrat with radical/antiwar sentiments and a guilty conscience (because of his war-widowed sister-in-law's suicide). And when Lothar and Josh team up, mid-battle, to flee, they wind up joining a large band of deserters led by Hill's third central character: Australian macho-man Viney, a heavy-handed study in repressed homosexuality. Once the newcomers join "Viney's Volunteers" in their hide-out (an abandoned German bunker in no-man's-land), tensions escalate among the deserters: pragmatic Viney and idealistic Lothar vie for power, for Josh's adoration, while some of the others give vent to sheer greed, cowardice, or bloodthirstiness. Further complications ensue when the deserters form an uneasy alliance with a French peasant-family—which includes beautiful young Nicole (whom Josh inevitably loves) and her shell-shocked brother. . .whom Josh accidentally kills, propelling Nicole into the arms of Lothar (for a one-shot pregnancy). Meanwhile, the deserters are being stalked by a British captain whose fiance was killed, unintentionally, during one of Viney's anti-Army raids. And finally, amid a German Army assault, the priorities shift in uplifting—but unlikely—directions: the British captain helps Josh and Nicole to flee together; Viney, thanks in part to the onset of sexual self-awareness (after a brief, unconvincing consummation with Josh), becomes a sort of war-hero in the corny fade-out. Throughout, in fact, though the deserter theme is relatively fresh, Hill succumbs far too often to clich‚s of character and plotting from related genres (POW/lifeboat dramas, wartime soap-operas). On the other hand, his attempts at more serious, literary textures are largely misguided: stagey speeches to reflect conflicting views on war, socialism, and other historical issues; stilted ventures into poetic language; crude proclamations of "tragic irony." And the result, while fitfully involving as action-adventure and always earnestly workmanlike, is neither absorbing as a three-cornered character study nor persuasive as an exploration of the deserter phenomenon.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 1985

ISBN: 0586070850

Page Count: 397

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1986

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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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