Just one criticism: The diversity on display does not extend to stories of minorities, which, considering all the talent out...

THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 2007

A rich, dense collection of 20 stories—King has harvested a bumper crop.

Auchincloss, Barth, Beattie, Boyle…the alphabetical order bunches together some big names at the start. The first three stories are entertaining and quirky, but T.C. Boyle’s “Balto” really hits paydirt. In this marvelous cliffhanger, about the forging of character, a 12-year-old girl can protect her beloved father if she lies under oath. What will she decide? Other family dramas also have real bite. The renowned Canadian Alice Munro explores intrepidly the aftermath of murder (“Dimension”). A deranged father has killed his three small children; his stoic, baffled wife visits him in the insane asylum; later, through his letters, she enters his twilit world, still reluctantly bound to him. The late Beverly Jensen looks at a large, loving, quarrelsome family (“Wake”). The head of the family has died. His children drive him through an ice storm to his burial in a remote Canadian village, where festive mourners greet the hearse in an extraordinary tableau. That boisterous affection for the dead is offset by two moving but unsentimental accounts of tenderness toward the dying (Stellar Kim’s “Findings and Impressions” and Eileen Pollack’s “The Bris”). Surrealism is represented by Karen Russell’s assimilation fable (“St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves”) and Roy Kesey’s airport nightmare (“Wait”), while Bruce McAllister’s searing story about the crisis of conscience experienced by a CIA covert-ops guy who spreads plagues in left-wing Third World countries is a memorable example of speculative fiction (“The Boy in Zaquitos”). Also noteworthy are Richard Russo’s “Horseman,” an intriguing campus story that’s a subtle illustration of the saying that good teachers teach themselves, and Joseph Epstein’s “My Brother Eli,” a juicy if superficial portrait of the artist (a thinly disguised Saul Bellow) as a bastard.

Just one criticism: The diversity on display does not extend to stories of minorities, which, considering all the talent out there, is troubling.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-618-71347-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2007

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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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