Ruge takes full advantage of the varying viewpoints to display, impressively, the density of family life, but a thematic...

IN TIMES OF FADING LIGHT

A multifaceted look at four generations of an East German family with roots in the Communist Party; this debut was a commercial and literary success in the German author’s homeland.  

The action moves back and forth over 50 years, beginning in 1952, but the central event, witnessed by six different viewpoint characters, occurs in 1989, shortly before the Berlin Wall comes down. The occasion is the 90th birthday party of Wilhelm, the patriarch, an unrepentant Stalinist and Party bigwig. Family members present include Charlotte, his imperious, mean-spirited wife, and his stepson Kurt, a respected Party historian and timid reformer. Conspicuously absent are Kurt’s Russian wife and his rebellious son Alexander, who that day has fled to the West. Though ideology is a crucial element of the novel, first and foremost come the domestic concerns that affect any family. Thus, the climax of Wilhelm’s party will not be his receiving one more Party honor, nor the news of Alexander’s defection, carefully concealed by Kurt, but the collapse of the old folks’ dining table, inexpertly assembled by Wilhelm, whose powers are failing. And it is typical of the oblique narration that you might even miss the act that ends his life that same day. Mysteries abound. We first meet Wilhelm and Charlotte in Mexico, refugees from Nazism, ending their 12-yearslong exile. Has Wilhelm been a secret agent for the Soviets? The possibility dangles. Why is there just one tiny reference to Charlotte’s first husband, the father of her sons? Those sons were sent to the gulag after Kurt’s veiled criticism of Stalin in a private letter to his brother. Kurt did 10 years; his brother was murdered, circumstances undisclosed. Most important, how did Kurt keep his faith in communism after his ordeal? A case of self-deception? His son Alexander believes “everything is deception.” It’s a grand theme, but it’s left undeveloped.

Ruge takes full advantage of the varying viewpoints to display, impressively, the density of family life, but a thematic cohesion is lacking.

Pub Date: June 11, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-55597-643-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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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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