A tenacious exploration of identity and bad-hair memory in the ’70s suburbs.

THE BEGINNING OF CALAMITIES

A caustic, improbably entertaining debut: an 11-year-old stages Christ’s Passion for his Catholic school on 1970s Long Island, allowing him to enact the drama of his incipient homosexuality.

Spazzy and prone to stuttering at the forbidden game of Keep Away, fifth-grader Danny Burke decides to write an Easter play in order to stay in at recess and avoid being subjected to his peers’ merciless bullying. His working-class mother, Carol, pushing 40 and with two troublesome older boys already moved out and a husband who’s never around, can’t be bothered; she insists only that Danny play a minor role in the production so as not to embarrass himself (and her). Danny’s mod teacher at Our Lady, Liz Kaigh, fresh out of college, seizes enthusiastically on the idea of the play and garners permission from principal Sister Regina to stage it. But when few of the popular children volunteer for roles, Liz—calling herself “Queen of the Lepers”—is left directing a ragtag group of outcasts and misfits. Danny, who longs to play Christ despite his teacher’s grave misgivings, finds his increasingly ecstatic identification with the vilified Son of Man a sensuous expression of his homosexual yearnings, especially regarding whipping and nudity. He creates a special biblical kindred spirit, Arram, who lounges naked in his room and encourages Danny to be true to his nature by, for example, streaking across the backyard. As the moment of the performance nears, mishaps mount, and Danny sabotages the other Jesus-es so the role, at the last minute, falls to him, while Liz and Carol create mythical personas of each other thanks to Danny’s fearful embarrassment that they might ever meet. They do, and the play is staged in a resounding finale as snickeringly silly as it is gratifying. House brings an ironic verisimilitude to the scrappy fifth-graders and two leading women—yet an underlying sarcasm leaves an aftertaste of wistful cynicism.

A tenacious exploration of identity and bad-hair memory in the ’70s suburbs.

Pub Date: June 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-882593-69-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bridge Works

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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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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