A highly enjoyable—and intermittently profound—debut.

STUDIES IN THE HEREAFTER

A whimsical debut novel in which Bernard makes heaven the setting for a story of love and self-actualization.

Some say heaven is a place where everything is fine; others say it's a place where nothing ever happens. In Bernard’s version of the afterlife, both of these things are true. Heaven houses dull bureaucrats milling about in assigned jobs and marriages, socializing and playing “awful, awful golf.” So many people make meanings of their lives based on their conceptions of the afterlife, but if “the general outline of meaninglessness always remains,” what then? Well, if you’re Bernard’s narrator, you get attached to your work researching people on Earth who lived peculiar lives—in particular, the romance between Carmelo (befuddled academic) and Tetty (young and beautiful, of course). It’s the narrator’s job “to find the individual’s essential soul, the characteristics that define it,” though soon, as he begins falling for Tetty and interfering in her life, his work becomes personal. Meanwhile, the saddest people (if that’s the right word) in heaven begin to disappear without explanation, and the narrator’s wife becomes fascinated—even going so far as to throw a party with an offbeat theme: “the vanishing people.” Bernard moves between heaven and the story of Carmelo and Tetty on Earth—specifically, the narrator’s story of the two lovers, which he writes for work. Not all the meta elements work here, and not everything that happens on Earth is interesting or unique. But in heaven? Well, it takes a good writer to populate the afterlife with flying people; it takes a true original to point out that, after a while, everyone gets sick of the flying people and the traffic jams they cause.

A highly enjoyable—and intermittently profound—debut.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59709-995-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Red Hen Press

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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