MEETINGS WITH THE ARCHANGEL

If The Razor’s Edge had starred Zero Mostel instead of Tyrone Power, this book might never have been written. And that would be a pity. Well-known translator Mitchell (The Book of Job, etc.) has given us a first novel in the form of an autobiography. And not just any autobiography, mind you, but a spiritual autobiography in the style of G.I. Gurdjieff’s Meetings With Remarkable Men, mixing anecdote with advice, and tossing some poems into the soup of philosophy. Stephen, our narrator, is a Jewish college professor whose disgust with the present-day cult of angels inspired him to publish a best-selling diatribe—Against Angels—attacking that obsession as delusional and puerile. Imagine his surprise, then, when confronted with an apparition of the Archangel Gabriel, who has come to set him straight. After engaging Stephen in an elaborate consideration of God, his angels, and the nature of human life, Gabriel settles back to listen to Stephen’s side of things. Stephen, hardly an atheist, has actually spent most of his life wrestling with religion and philosophy—among the Hasidim of Brooklyn, the Zen Buddhists, and the more mundane graduate students of Harvard, Columbia, and Berkeley—and the better part of the story is his. A husband and father, Stephen wants to understand God in relational terms, and Gabriel makes it clear that this is possible. But only up to a point: “You can’t see God’s face without dying. Are you ready to die?” Much of the story is a debate rather than a narrative, and sometimes it bogs down in the mire through which all such disputations must drive (“One of our most exciting games is standing on the edge of a truth, just before it touches its opposite, and gazing down into the abyss between them”). For the most part, though, this is a pretty good (if giddy) ride. Insanely quirky, but good-natured, unpretentious, and (at times) genuinely enlightening. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 1998

ISBN: 0-06-018245-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1998

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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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