A fascinating study of human attachment and loss.

ADDICTS & BASEMENTS

A fast-moving fusion of microfiction and free verse that peers into the places where people keep things most deeply hidden.

Vaughan (Diptychs + Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits, 2013, etc.) is quick to identify his own motivations for this project. In “Fallout,” one of the shorter flash-fiction vignettes included in this collection, he writes: “He wants to photograph the seed pods, transfixed by the way they morph while they float….He hopes to capture their essence, as if by shooting them, freezing them frame by frame, he might see his own life oozing before him, undulating like festering wounds.” Whether photographers, tourists or children, Vaughan’s narrators approach their own circumstances and feelings with a scientific attention to detail, slicing each specimen down to the thinnest membrane before studying it with a thorough, distanced objectivity, always seeking some answer and often finding something festering. What they discover is that the most powerful addictions have little to do with substances and everything to do with patterns of behavior and belief. “Basements are unsafe” since they’re where loss occurs and, worse, where truth might be found. When his wife calls him pathetic, a stumbling drunk has to admit, “The truth is we’ve been this way for so long, I think I believe her.” Another husband accuses his wife of paranoia for worrying about his revealing their camping spot to a stranger, but inwardly, he thinks, “I wasn’t willing to admit it: he creeped me out, too….I chuckled but knew she was right.” For all their seeking, the truths they find invariably turn out to be their own inadequacies: “I said: // ‘Tell me the truth.’ / And he said, ‘I don’t believe you— // to tell the truth.’ ” Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the collection is its emotional evenness. The scientific examining persists; there is little judgment, little compassion, only observation. The young woman who loses her friend on a trip and the possibly sociopathic teen threatening sexual violence share a kind of detachment bordering on a lack of affect. These attempts to examine the human animal prove to be the collection’s strength, draining though they can be. In his dissections, Vaughan uncovers an astonishing resilience, but it is often wounded and ugly. The few emotionally charged exceptions, such as “On the Wings of a Dove,” are welcome relief.

A fascinating study of human attachment and loss.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-937865-23-8

Page Count: 142

Publisher: Civil Coping Mechanisms

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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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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