A brilliant, quirky entertainment.

BEFORE THE FEAST

In his sophomore novel, Bosnian-born writer Stanišic (How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone, 2008) meditates on history, real and counterfactual. 

Fürstenfelde is a sleepy little burg somewhere down along the German-Polish border, territory whose cultural conflicts have proved such fertile ground for Günter Grass. Not much happens there; the wolves stir and the woodpeckers peck, while a diligent vixen sniffs her way through one henhouse after another to feed her kits. Not much happens, that is, until the ferryman goes missing right before the Feast of Saint Anne, a high point on the local calendar. “Big hairy terrorist-type beard, fingernails and all that,” mutters the narrator, who marvels all the same at the way the ferry provides a little light at night. Readers with a sense of classical mythology will be alert to the possibilities when death, or at least the oarsman across the River Styx, takes a holiday. When time stands still, history becomes a jumble; one of the townspeople finds her nicely done hairdo squashed by a Pickelhaube, or spiked helmet, of a century past, while another, bound up in the doings of the old East German police state, is given to saying portentous things such as (this time concerning the vixen) “if a chicken is fearless, that doesn’t make it brave.” Another principal is introduced with a near-Homeric epithet each time he appears: “Herr Schramm, former Lieutenant-Colonel in the National People’s Army, then a forester, now a pensioner.” In the face of a neo-Nazi rally in town, first-generation Nazis are still in view, and when the town archive is broken into, stories from other times and voices come tumbling out. Stanišic’s yarn is a sprawling mess at first glance, but as it unfolds, it’s clear that he has given great thought to structure, to repeated and echoed motifs and themes, and in the end each element in the storyline ties up more or less neatly, if sometimes with a little confusion in getting there.

A brilliant, quirky entertainment.

Pub Date: June 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-941040-39-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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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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