Though it honors Edward’s urging to slip “beneath the surface,” Gamble’s effort, albeit worthy, doesn’t go deep enough.

GOOD FAMILY

Recovering alcoholic returns to her ancestral cottage to confront family ghosts, in Gamble’s second (The Water Dancers, 2003).

Maddie Addison has been estranged from her family for 11 years, since her infant daughter died of SIDS at the family summer home and she fell into despair, awash in booze. With the help of Ian, her filmmaking partner and best friend, she joined AA and has attained relative serenity in Manhattan. Now, however, she has been summoned back to the Aerie, a massive, ramshackle residence on Sand Isle in Upper Lake Michigan, a private island resort for the descendants of Midwestern oligarchs, including the Addisons, founders of a shampoo and cold-remedy empire. Maddie’s widowed mother, Evelyn, paying the wages of her inveterate tippling, is moribund after a stroke, and Maddie has returned for a final reckoning with her. But since her mother is now physically as well as emotionally incommunicado, Maddie must make do with exorcising her unresolved passion for her twin cousins, Derek and Edward, and parsing the strangeness of anorexic, guru-besotted cousin Adele. The story’s second part recaps Maddie’s youth—Aerie summers, when she trails Great-Grandmother Addie’s ghost, bundles in an upstairs room with Edward, who may or may not have whacked her pet chipmunk, and joyrides with wild-child sister Dana in the family station-wagon. She attends Harvard and NYU, blows her chance of marrying plastic-bag scion Jamie, marries fellow cineaste Angus instead, has his child. Back in 1999, she catches her niece Jessica and Derek’s son Beowulf flirting with kissing-cousin-dom and is bemused by cousin Sedgwick’s functioning drunkenness and Dana’s straitlaced Catholicism, overcompensation for a hush-hush abortion years before. As for Edward, he’s long since disappeared into madness after a stint in Vietnam. In all, Evelyn remains a cipher but so does Maddie, while Gamble skirts or underplays money and class issues, and genteel punch-pulling deflates any potential conflict.

Though it honors Edward’s urging to slip “beneath the surface,” Gamble’s effort, albeit worthy, doesn’t go deep enough.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-073794-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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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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