JUST ABOVE MY HEAD

A big new novel by James Baldwin is always of major interest, and there are scenes here of Baldwin at his earthy, lyrical best. But this rambling book lacks overall shape, and Baldwin seems self-consciously intent on sour lip-chewing, on talking around and beyond white readers: to see him crumpling into jive-and-slap insularity is dismaying, he whose anger isn't by nature clogged and stingy but churchly, prophetic, and outcast. The chief narrative here belongs to Arthur Montana, the "Soul Emperor," a famous black gospel singer done-in finally by the combined injuries of being good of heart, black, musical, and homosexual; but the book is really a troika of three barely-yoked-together themes, all of which Baldwin has done better by before. Baldwin-the-exile writes as brilliantly as ever about how it was and is: touring the South in the Fifties, going into a bar or a store if you're black. There is the portrait of Sister Julia, a child preacher (as Baldwin was), her calling ended at the hands of her brutalizing father, then her placeless wandering as a black, childless woman in a white world. And the love scenes, as usual with Baldwin, are maudlin, but Arthur's first love affair with one of his back-up singers, Crunch, is very moving and deftly done. Wonderful, too, are the church concerts, the singing and testifying—but the sermonizing that precedes or follows them dispirits. Baldwin seems to have lost his way fictionally; he presses doggedly on here, but the path never clarifies. Bathos aplenty, anger folded-down too minutely, energy frittered—a book that seems to have imploded along the way.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0385334567

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1979

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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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