A better-than-average rock novel that thoughtfully addresses aging, art and relationships.

WONDERLAND

An aging rock singer heads to Europe for one more attempt to reckon with her music, her father and an old flame.

Anna Brundage, the narrator of D’Erasmo’s fourth novel (Creative Writing/Columbia; The Sky Below, 2009, etc.), is 44 and semifamous. An emotionally stark, drug-fueled album made her a cult figure a decade earlier, but the follow-up failed to connect. So she’s trying another tour, perhaps her last, financed by selling some ephemera of her famous-artist father. The overall shape of Wonderland hews to rock-novel convention. Squabbles with band members: check. Disastrous on-stage meltdown: check. Ill-advised one-night stand: check. But D’Erasmo writes about all of these things artfully and insightfully, giving Brundage a no-nonsense, road-worn tone that leaves equal room for pathos and humor. (For instance: “I had just essentially slept with a fan, and everyone knows that that’s the beginning of turning into a crazy hag with breast implants and lipstick drawn way beyond the lips.”) D’Erasmo is particularly good at capturing the randomness and joy of the creative process, and she links Anna’s songwriting with her father’s work, which involves aggressively sawing or blasting cross sections of trains and buildings. (An event concerning Anna’s father shifts the novel’s pitch midway through.) A subplot involving a fling with a man she met on an earlier tour is relatively thin, but it does give D’Erasmo an opportunity to openly ponder questions about how relationships fit alongside creativity and the simple business of paying the bills. Is Anna’s songwriting an essential part of her identity or a way to avoid confronting it? An invitation to stay on the road even longer gives this question a deeper urgency for Anna, and D’Erasmo wisely avoids giving her story a pat, simple ending.

A better-than-average rock novel that thoughtfully addresses aging, art and relationships.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-07481-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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