Middleton’s fiction doesn’t wave flags or strike sparks. It stares you in the face and tells the plain truth, and it knows...

MOTHER’S BOY

Three variously embattled marriages and their complex interconnections are scrupulously analyzed in the veteran author’s new novel—his 43rd, in a half-century’s work including the 1974 Booker Prize–winning Holiday.

Middleton is a domestic realist whose quiet narratives, set mostly in the English Midlands, focus on people of the professional classes whose marital and family relationships both circumscribe and define their often intriguingly flawed natures. This novel begins with 30ish accountant John Riley’s visit to the nursing home where his father William languishes in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Their halting communication initiates a succession of conversations, accomplished in meetings and telephone calls, through which we gradually comprehend their own and their loved ones’ straitened circumstances. John’s mother Ella, a primary-school headmistress, cannot overcome her anger over William’s effective retreat from her—especially after he overcomes his dementia (“heroically”) and begins romancing a fellow patient. Ella’s chic younger sister Irene and her literally distant husband Eric—a busy foreign correspondent—offer tart commentary, moral support and a dash of sexual complication to John’s initially half-hearted, eventually sincere efforts to reconcile with his estranged wife Helen, an emotionally fragile beauty, albeit a successful solicitor. It sounds like soap opera, but isn’t—because Middleton writes incisive, revealing dialogue and radiates empathy for his sometimes annoyingly poky characters. He also suggests—through allusions to Shakespeare—that fools though these middle-class mortals may be, they’re as complicated, ornery and interesting as the people next door. Though this industrious, unpretentious artist is often compared to E.M. Forster and C.P. Snow, he’s more closely akin to early 20th-century realist Arnold Bennett.

Middleton’s fiction doesn’t wave flags or strike sparks. It stares you in the face and tells the plain truth, and it knows more things about us than we might have believed possible.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2007

ISBN: 0-09-179717-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Hutchinson/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2006

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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TRUE BETRAYALS

Thoroughbreds and Virginia blue-bloods cavort, commit murder, and fall in love in Roberts's (Hidden Riches, 1994, etc.) latest romantic thriller — this one set in the world of championship horse racing. Rich, sheltered Kelsey Byden is recovering from a recent divorce when she receives a letter from her mother, Naomi, a woman she has believed dead for over 20 years. When Kelsey confronts her genteel English professor father, though, he sheepishly confesses that, no, her mother isn't dead; throughout Kelsey's childhood, she was doing time for the murder of her lover. Kelsey meets with Naomi and not only finds her quite charming, but the owner of Three Willows, one of the most splendid horse farms in Virginia. Kelsey is further intrigued when she meets Gabe Slater, a blue-eyed gambling man who owns a neighboring horse farm; when one of Gabe's horses is mated with Naomi's, nostrils flare, flanks quiver, and the romance is on. Since both Naomi and Gabe have horses entered in the Kentucky Derby, Kelsey is soon swept into the whirlwind of the Triple Crown, in spite of her family's objections to her reconciliation with the notorious Naomi. The rivalry between the two horse farms remains friendly, but other competitors — one of them is Gabe's father, a vicious alcoholic who resents his son's success — prove less scrupulous. Bodies, horse and human, start piling up, just as Kelsey decides to investigate the murky details of her mother's crime. Is it possible she was framed? The ground is thick with no-goods, including haughty patricians, disgruntled grooms, and jockeys with tragic pasts, but despite all the distractions, the identity of the true culprit behind the mayhem — past and present — remains fairly obvious. The plot lopes rather than races to the finish. Gambling metaphors abound, and sexual doings have a distinctly equine tone. But Roberts's style has a fresh, contemporary snap that gets the story past its own worst excesses.

Pub Date: June 13, 1995

ISBN: 0-399-14059-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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