It's a curious fact that Russell Hoban and Norman Mailer are very nearly the same age (born 1925 and 1923 respectively)—because, like Mailer's Ancient Evenings (p. 203), Hoban's new novel is a quasi-mystical blend of theology, ghosts, magic, death-songs, and dark sexual visions. But, while Mailer's book surrounds those preoccupations with a longwinded, episodic narrative, Hoban presents them in a dreamlike meditation-cumpilgrimage—dense, poetic, difficult. The pilgrim/narrator is Pilgermann, a Jew in 1096 Europe, who indulges his lust for the local tax-collector's wife Sophia. . . and, after leaving her, is promptly castrated by the townsfolk, but not killed—thanks to, of all people, the tax-collector. And then Pilgermann has a vision of Christ, followed by a voice telling him—"Thou pilgrim Jew!"—to go to Jerusalem. Why? "To keep Jesus from going away," as God has gone away. So Pilgermann sets off for the Holy Land on foot. His acquaintances along the way include: a dying, John Irvingesque bear, symbolizing Christ ("What a wonderful bear that was! How I wished that I could have him for a friend"); a company of children raped by skeleton-creatures symbolizing Lust; a lascivious talking (and constantly fornicating) pig; assorted ghosts; and Pilgermann's own death, a visible entity but "not yet ripened to term." As he travels pilgermann ponders war, Hieronymus Bosch (the narrator is actually Pilgermann's eternal, clairvoyant soul), epiphany ("the strange brilliance of total Now"), and the Naumburg stone story: "The Jesusness of Jesus cannot live without the Judasness of Judas, the Caiaphasness of Caiphas, the Pilateness of Pilate. Ponderous wheel!" Then, in the novel's second half, Pilgermann becomes a slave to a simpatico Turk in Antioch—where he and his master consider "potentiality and actuality," the "motion of the Unseen": Pilgermann creates a mystical geometrical design for a tiled marketplace—a pattern symbolizing both the pro and con of religion. And when the crusading Franks arrive to massacre, Pilgermann curses God, achieves a purple-blue state of "indescribable luminosity". . . and faces his own extinction. At its best: a harrowing yet elegant blend of shapely parable and anguished imagery. At its worst: a cross between a comparative theology lecture and Castaneda-style blather. Of limited appeal, then, without the epic allure of Riddley Walker—but often a rich, bizarre challenge for the theologically-minded.

Pub Date: April 30, 1983

ISBN: 0747556407

Page Count: 244

Publisher: Summit/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1983

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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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