EVER AFTER

This time out, Swift (Out of This World, Waterland, Learning to Swim, etc.) at first seems to be reworking a fictional convention that's becoming tired from overuse: the writer—or, as here, the Oxford academic—who finds himself in possession of an old manuscript whose revelations dovetail with the perturbations of the modern interpreter. Bill Unwin is the ambivalent don in question, and the journals (bequeathed by family) concern a Victorian ancestor named Matthew Pearce, a surveyor and rector's son-in-law whose life and faith is changed forever when, on the cliffs of Dorset in 1844, he comes face-to-face with an ichthyosaurus. Darwin replaces God in Pearce at that instant—but in Unwin the revelation only sharpens the dilemma of knowing what's better unknown (in his own case, the suicide death of his father), and the questions of immortality and memory and fame and mutability (all very much on his mind since his beloved actress wife Ruth's early cancer death). Unwin has attempted suicide himself but failed, and the vagrant nature of his narration seems an impossible search for focus. Swift is a very cunning writer, though. Every thematic strand- -books, bridges, railroads, dinosaurs, acting, sex—subtly achieves a color that makes it recognizable once the chords of fugue on the theme of mortality and immortality are struck. And feeling (a rare commodity in younger British writers nowadays) is what makes these colors so high: even at its most looping and shuffling, the book finds ways to move you, untricked-up emotion being its surest ground. Unwin's losses are ranged around, but so are the bravery of his questioning memory and the fidelity of his love.

Pub Date: March 12, 1992

ISBN: 0-679-40954-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1992

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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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