THE TALISMAN

The quasi-cosmic, picaresque journey of twelve-year-old Jack Sawyer—across America on foot, "flipping" in and out of a parallel universe called the "Territories"—in quest of a magical talisman that will save his widowed mother (a former B-movie star) from dying of cancer. Jack's trek begins on the Atlantic coast, where an old black man at a seedy "Funworld" tells him about the Territories, The Talisman, and the "Twinners" (parallel-universe doppelgangers); and these first chapters recall the murky hoo-hah of Straub's opaque Shadowland—as Jack learns that his nemesis is his dead father's evil business partner Morgan Sloat, known in the Territories as "Morgan of Orris." Still, Jack plunges ahead—walking west but flipping into the Territories whenever Morgan's pursuit becomes lethal. . . and vice versa. In the real world his ordeals include: slave-labor at an upstate N.Y. tavern; harassment from pederasts; dreadful days in a neo-Diekensian "Home" for delinquent boys. In the semi-medieval Territories, he faces tree-monsters and assorted "thing" attackers—but also acquires a devoted, brave sidekick: a werewolf named Wolf, who travels with Jack into the real world. (This 150-page section, midway through, is prime alien-fiction à la King—funny, touching, complete with a Carrie-like outburst of retaliation from poor, sweet Wolf.) And eventually, after Wolf's noble demise, lack reaches the midwestern prep school of chum Richard Sloat (son of Morgan)—who'll reluctantly accompany him the rest of the paranoid-peril way: across the radioactive Blasted Lands on a magical train, then flipping into real-world California. . . where The Talisman awaits ("COME TO ME! COME NOW!") in a black hotel. Fans of King's horror, then, will probably be irritated by the pretentious, verbose, psycho-gothic/philosophical fantasy here—which involves coming-of-age, the Twinner gestalt, the sinful secrets of Jack's dead dad, and heavy good-vs.-evil breathing. (See King's The Stand as well as lesser Straub.) At the other extreme is a lot of King-style sentimentality and jokey vulgarity—with Jack's mind implausibly embracing four decades of pop-culture allusions. But, with some gripping sequences along the way and the double-whammy byline, this grandiose, meandering saga—echoing Oz, Alice, and Huck Finn—is sure to reach a massive audience. . . and satisfy about half of it.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1984

ISBN: 0345444884

Page Count: 774

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1984

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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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