A fantastically chilling psychodrama intelligently woven into literary history.

MRS SAVILLE

In this epistolary novel set in 19th-century England, a brother’s sudden return ushers a darkness into his sister’s home. 

Margaret Saville is left alone to run the household while her husband, Philip, is away on business, fecklessly turning to domestic obligations as a way to manage her loneliness. Then her brother, Robin, abruptly appears after a three-year absence, “penniless and beaten” after a harrowing experience at sea. He was the captain of a ship that explored the unforgiving waters of the Arctic. Robin was always a vigorous man, an autodidact known for his insatiable curiosity, but now there’s “something rather shattered about him”—he’s not only physically diminished, but spiritually exhausted as well. He’s also stubbornly laconic and avoids any conversation about whatever experience devastated him. Then a mysterious Russian, Mr. Andropov, a carpenter on Robin’s ship, arrives and explains “the strange time” at sea that shook the captain to his core, a tale hauntingly related by Morrissey (Crowsong for the Stricken, 2017, etc.). Meanwhile, Margaret grapples with demons of her own—her young son, Maurice, dies of illness, a torment that undermines her faith in God. In addition, she hasn’t heard from Philip in weeks, and she fretfully fears the worst, especially as her financial circumstances become increasingly precarious. In a tantalizing subplot, Margaret befriends Mary Shelley, the not-yet-famous author and wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley, who struggles to produce her first book. (This storyline also effectively dates the setting of the novel to about 1815.)  The entirety of Morrissey’s tale is told from the first-person perspective of Margaret, conveyed in a series of letters to Philip. The prose is mercurial, especially the dialogue, which can be beautifully refined and moving: “I find I cannot fault him, for loneliness is a hard master, inflicting his lashes most vigorously during the quietest moments.” But it can also be clumsily overwrought and baroque, as when Mary discusses her husband’s genius: “Words flow from him like rays from the sun, and just as golden, only ceasing for necessary nocturnal rest; and I am not confident he fully comprehends that that is not a quality granted to all mortals in equal measure.” Further, Margaret’s “compulsive writing” can be exasperatingly long-winded and disorderly—even she calls them her “meandering missives.” Too often and at too great length her attention dwells on household matters tangential to the main plot and themes. Yet Morrissey magisterially conjures—first by incremental inches and then in a crashing crescendo—a fearsome atmosphere of something vague but evil. The author builds that cloud of foreboding out of pieces that seem disconnected but finally cohere in a univocal mood: Philip’s worrisome silence, the death of a child, and Margaret’s resentful conclusion that God has abandoned her. In addition, the author cleverly ties that mounting malevolence to Mary’s own writing in a way that genuinely adds to the story. 

A fantastically chilling psychodrama intelligently woven into literary history.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-0-9987057-6-7

Page Count: 203

Publisher: Twelve Winters Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2018

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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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