AT THE OWL WOMAN SALOON

A solid, if sometimes conventional, second collection (after The Lover of Horses, 1986) by poet Gallagher. The 16 tales here are alive with intriguing characterizations, though several suffer from listless plots and excessive detail. Many of the pieces focus on the emotional repercussions of losing a loved one (Gallagher was married to Raymond Carver). In the amusing ``My Gun,'' a recent widow is forced to deal with hitherto unexpected elements in her husband's past. Her droll meditations on whether or not to buy a gun for protection are interwoven with her narrative of shocked discoveries. Another quirky tale on the nature of widowhood, ``Mr. Woodriff's Neckties,'' describes the mannerly relationship between Mr. Woodriff, a famous novelist dying of cancer, and his next-door neighbor, whose wife also has the disease. Told with sweetness and a pragmatic attitude toward life and death, the story revolves around the small acts of kindness between the two men (like when the neighbor knots a tie for Mr. Woodriff, who never learned how), deftly probing the nature of charity. ``Rain Flooding Your Campfire'' offers a clever play on narrative consistency when the narrator's version of events (the visit of recently widowed friend Norman) challenges Mr. G's story. She and Mr. G work together at the gas company, though Mr. G is actually a failed novelist, looking for material from wherever he can find it, so that Norman, who is blind, offers great grist for Mr. G`s mill. Outshining Mr. G`s quirkiness is ``The Poetry Baron'' (as he likes to think of himself)—a middle-aged English professor with Napoleonic delusions and the quintessential roving eye. Many of the stories are distinguished by a meditative, sometimes somber, humor. A worthwhile collection, then, with a few failed tales, focusing on the simple patterns and complex relationships of everyday life.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-82693-3

Page Count: 230

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1997

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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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