BIRDSONG ASCENDING

Harrison combines the violence and craziness of the southern gothic with the gentler spirit of magic realism in a second novel (following Walls of Blue Coquina, 1990) that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't but is never, ever dull. The principals in this small-town drama set in Calhoun, Florida, are Doris Montgomery, an attractive middle-aged woman whose husband Pete died in a mysterious boating accident 20 years before; her equally attractive daughter Kitty, a cosmetics salesgirl; and Kitty's lover, Frank Birdsong, a wealthy middle-aged bachelor who inherited the family orange groves but is now a developer. There are frequent flashbacks, all quite wonderful, to Doris's oppressively religious adolescence in the Keys, from which Pete rescued her. The present is full of mysteries. Why is Kitty not ready to marry the available Frank? Why has Doris just tried to kill herself? Who is firing bullets through Frank's windows? And trying to tag him as a polluter by dumping pesticide on his development? While Frank goes hunting for the bad guys (who retaliate by killing his partner), Kitty looks to the stars and consults Judy Garland Dominguez, a Cuban psychic—but Doris is the key. It was she who two-timed Pete by taking the weak, malleable Frank as her lover; she who terrified Kitty into feeling responsible for Pete's death; and it is Doris now who grabs Frank back from her daughter (``it was my right''). Inevitably, death and desolation are the fruits of her mad egotism. Yet Doris is the biggest failure here. In the flashbacks, she is a warmly sympathetic victim; in the present she reveals herself, slowly, as a monster. What happened in between? Without a bridge, the reader is disoriented; disorienting too is Harrison's hopelessly awkward narrative technique. Finally, though, exasperation is outweighed by gratitude for this rich haul from an abundantly gifted storyteller. More, please.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-15-100060-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1991

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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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