A self-conscious but deft literary triptych; rarefied amusement.



A trio of conceptually overlapping narratives spans Anglo-American relations and matters of head and heart across the 20th century.

In her fiction debut, critic and magazine editor Lesser (The Genius of Language, 2004, etc.) layers three stories, at the heart of each of which stands an expatriate American female visiting Cambridge, England. All of the women consider the cultural clash; each confronts an awkward relationship with a man; each has greater or lesser involvement with political shifts, women’s rights and, above all, literature. Book One offers the most complex and referential anecdote, depicting Charlotte and Roderick, potential alter egos for Edith Wharton and Henry James, during a house party sabotaged by drunken servants. A disruptive and histrionic Italian boyfriend and Charlotte’s lover, Gilbert, also arrive, the latter announcing the death of Queen Victoria; inevitably, “the end of an era.” A meta-fictional first-person narrator stirs this abstract pot by claiming to be Charlotte 25 years on, although, “She doesn’t represent me accurately…everything you see, everything on the outside, is made up, or at least transformed.” Charlotte’s confusion and embarrassment at the perceived exposure of her less-than-respectable relationship with Gilbert (the two are not married) is comparable to the shame experienced by Sarah, the divorced writer in Book Two, whose encounter in the 1950s with another woman’s flirtatious husband offers at first excitement and then the realization that he’s just not that into her. The graduate student in Book Three grapples more predictably with Paul, an emotionally immature and repressed Englishman of limited insight. Throughout, nationalistic stereotypes jostle, semi-ironically, with higher-flown debates on artistry, aging and the individual. The mix is uneasy, ambitious and—given its length and span—superficial. The symbol of the pagoda, however, pulls matters together in an elegant conclusion, linking intellectual confidantes in a vision of sublime achievement set amid the prosaic spaces of Kew Gardens.

A self-conscious but deft literary triptych; rarefied amusement.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2005

ISBN: 1-59051-076-X

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Handsel/Other Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2005

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.


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.


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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