The soft-focus ending is only a momentary respite from the novel’s preoccupation—the persistent, agonizing allure of the...


A writer scours the past and his own false starts in an ultimately futile quest to explain the 1961 assassination of a charismatic North Dakota legislator.

In his latest return to the Northern plains, Watson (Orchard, 2003, etc.) flouts the taboo against writer protagonists, no doubt in the interests of structure. Musing over a compendium of his earlier attempts to explicate the central drama of his life, the nameless writer-narrator recalls a January Wednesday in Bismarck, 1961, when he walked home from high school with his best friend, Gene Stoddard. At Gene’s house, Gene’s father Ray has, uncharacteristically, returned early from his job as a state employee at the nearby North Dakota capitol building. The narrator later learns that Ray shot, point-blank at the capitol, his own boyhood friend Monty Burnham, a state senator with Washington ambitions, then hurried home to hang himself in the family garage, leaving behind a confession to the crime but no inkling as to motive. Approaching the incident from the points of view of both pivotal and peripheral players, the narrator dispenses creative writing tips and quotes stories he’s published in obscure literary journals. Several speculative vendetta scenarios emerge. Monty and Alma, Ray’s beautiful wife, were high-school sweethearts, and rekindled an affair after her marriage, possibly during World War II, possibly during a high-school reunion, casting doubt on the paternity of the Stoddards’ daughter. Monty bamboozled Ray’s dying father into selling a beloved lake cabin, depriving Ray of his inheritance. Monty embroiled Ray, who works in purchasing, in a kickback scheme involving the state auto fleet, a scandal on the brink of exposure. Although everyone else, including his parents, has put the trauma to rest, the narrator has not. His obsession is complicated by his estrangement from Gene, and his (lifelong) infatuation with Gene’s girlfriend, Marie.

The soft-focus ending is only a momentary respite from the novel’s preoccupation—the persistent, agonizing allure of the unknowable.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-375-50722-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2007

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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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