The Man Who Gave Away His Organs

TALES OF LOVE AND OBSESSION AT MIDLIFE

In Levine’s (Catch and Other Poems, 2015, etc.) stark nine-story collection, characters with seemingly ordinary lives endure loss, both palpable and transcendental.

Ed Kramer, the title story’s protagonist, is an unassertive man who for all intents and purposes is content with his wife, June, and son, Jeremy. But when Ed decides to become a repeat donor, starting with his bone marrow, he gives away more than tangible parts. His unequivocal happiness with the press and public admiring his “self-sacrifice” ultimately affects his family. Similarly, in “Tlac,” Deborah and Harry Ashe grieve in vastly different ways after the death of their son, Cal T., from a car accident. Deborah’s remembrance of her son is almost a religious experience, talking in a recovery group about the sights, sounds, and smells of Cal T. Not surprisingly, Harry’s contrasting despondency puts more than a strain on their relationship. Fortunately, not all of Levine’s tales are bleak. The opening “But Is It Art?” is a riot, in which Jade Frommer stuns her stepdad, Arnold, and mom, Norell, with a performance piece highlighted by audio recordings of her parents—things they might not necessarily want other people to hear. The subsequent “Jeopardy,” in the same vein, has only the appearance of despair. It tells the tale of college professor Jake Dubovsky, caring for ailing mother Edith, and a family devastated by her abusive husband. But there’s definitely hope: mother and son share elation in watching Edith’s favorite show, Jeopardy!, with host Alex Trebek representing “everything her husband had never been.” A couple of stories tiptoe close to surrealism without stepping completely over the line. In “Love and Death at the Golden Bear Recreation Center,” for example, Sommers, while swimming laps, mentally recites eulogies for people who aren’t dead though soon may be. Likewise, the narrator in “The Second-Tuesday-of-the-Month Irving Horowitz Support Group” meets with men of the same name. But it’s Ervin (“close enough”) who elbows his way into the narrator’s mind and home life, strangely knowledgeable about the mysterious Irving. Most stories, like “Art?,” have open-to-interpretation endings, but none is more jarring than the closing tale, “Becoming Burt Reynolds,” about the rise and fall of a celebrity look-alike. Strong characters and stories that, whether bitter or sweet, unquestionably elicit an emotional response.

Pub Date: July 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59266-104-6

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Capra

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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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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