Delightful comic tale about a man who can’t convince anyone he’s who he says he is.

Recovered from a taxi accident that plunged him into a coma for three days, Martin Harris returns to his wife Liz. Entering the apartment they’re sharing in Paris, Harris encounters a man he has never seen who insists on being Martin Harris. Liz, his mate of ten years, also refuses to recognize the returning Martin, whose protestations become so intense the building super, who also doesn’t recognize Martin, ushers him from the premises. Author van Cauwelaert (the Prix Goncourt winner One-Way, not reviewed) thus starts with a premise that could serve a Hitchcock thriller, a Twilight Zone episode, or a heavy-going exercise in Existentialism. But van Cauwelaert nimbly sidesteps cliché and pretense, coming up with a series of sometimes dazzling scenes on the theme of identity. He speeds the hapless Martin through witty, touching, trenchant encounters with the hospital, the police, the woman driving the cab, and, a high point, a psychiatrist who offers Martin and the reader challenging but never heavy-handed theories about the powers of memory. Growing desperate for the most basic validation, Martin sets a private eye to spying on Martin’s neighbors for a shred of evidence that will prove he’s the real Martin. After checking birth, work, and marriage records, the p.i. tells Martin: “You don’t exist.” Martin’s hope now turns to the cab driver from the accident, Muriel Carderet, who comes to believe Martin is the genuine item. Indeed, as their relationship deepens, Martin wonders whether he might after all prefer being this new Martin. Then Carderet locates one of Martin’s former co-workers, who says he can vouch for Martin’s identity. The co-worker does unlock the puzzle, but not in a way one may expect. The swift final scene—a breathtaking jeté—should surprise even the most jaded fan of thrillers.

A little gem.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2004

ISBN: 1-59051-085-2

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2004

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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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