Enough stylish invention here for several novels, but this one’s center cannot hold. Maybe next time.

THE PROBABLE FUTURE

A teenaged girl’s prophetic powers constitute the eye of several storms brewed up in the magical-realist’s overstuffed, ungainly, improbably absorbing 16th novel.

Taking a page or two from her Practical Magic (1995), Hoffman (Blue Diary, 2001, etc.) once again creates a trio of women gifted and burdened with extrasensory powers. Stella Avery discovers on her 13th birthday that she is able to see people’s futures—an alarming phenomenon that causes her father Will to be falsely suspected of murder. Stella’s mother Jenny, contentedly divorced from the feckless Will (who has a long history of selfish and irresponsible behavior), similarly troubled by her own ability to “read” people’s dreams, sends Stella away from scandal and possible danger to live with maternal grandmother Elinor, a widowed recluse who tends her beloved garden and considers the fruits of her ability to “smell out” falsehood, while she’s dying of cancer. First Jenny, then Will follow Stella’s path, and the tale opens—often quite awkwardly—to involve Elinor’s physician and friend Brock Stewart (who has secretly loved her for decades); Jenny’s formerly mousy high-school classmate Liza Hull (a woman reawakened and transformed by love); Dr. Stewart’s affable grandson Hap, who befriends Stella and falls for her acerbic visiting girlfriend Juliet Aronson; Will’s “good” brother Matt, a scholarly bachelor who has never forgotten Jenny; and the 17th-century figure of Rebecca Sparrow, a troubled and doomed woman evoked by both Matt’s historical researches and the experiences of her descendants, which are eventually seen to be replicating Rebecca’s own. Hoffman flits from one center of interest to another like a distracted butterfly. The effect is both jarring and intriguing. We’re interested in all her people, but their subordination to the increasingly busy plot tends to drain away interest created by their beguiling individual eccentricities.

Enough stylish invention here for several novels, but this one’s center cannot hold. Maybe next time.

Pub Date: June 24, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50760-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2003

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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