A quiet but deeply moving achievement of lyric power.

BLACKBIRD HOUSE

With a dozen stories, some more clearly connected than others but all set in the same farmhouse on Cape Cod from the time of the British blockade to the present, Hoffman (Blue Diary, 2002, etc.) creates a continuous narrative built up through a sense of place.

Blackbird House was built “On the Edge of the World” by a fisherman lost, along with his younger son, during what he’d hoped was to be his last sea voyage before settling down to farm. “The Witch of Truro” is actually Ruth, a desperate orphan who finds love and security with a kindly one-legged blacksmith on the farm. When Ruth’s husband dies years later, her daughter buries “The Token” to help her recover. These stories lean heavily on symbolism—fire, water, the color red, a white blackbird—but Hoffman has grown in subtlety, so that the recurring motifs and occasionally heightened realism work nicely within the book’s structure. At the center, three interlocking stories follow Violet, a bookish farm girl. She falls in love with a visiting Harvard professor who ends up marrying her prettier sister—but not before impregnating Violet. Violet marries a good man and happily raises three children on the farm. The oldest, unaware of his paternity, wins a scholarship to Harvard and leaves Cape Cod. When he dies in Europe years later, Violet brings home his son to raise. That grandson returns from WWII with a Jewish wife, a Holocaust survivor ready to meet the challenge of Violet’s fierce love. In the ’50s and ’60s, unhappiness hovers over the farm: murder, resentments, suicide. But in the concluding pieces, about a family that must rebuild itself after confronting a child’s bout with leukemia, the farm becomes a source of love and renewal. While family names come and go (and sometimes reappear), the farm undergoes its own evolution.

A quiet but deeply moving achievement of lyric power.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2004

ISBN: 978-0-385-50761-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2004

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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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