A rather depressing glimpse of things to come, culled from the rising talents of some 20 writing programs nationwide by Hoffman (Practical Magic, 1995, etc.), who blithely and somewhat terrifyingly informs us that ``what's in these pages is only the start.'' All the standard criticisms of writing-program prose—its flatness, dullness, lack of depth—are well-illustrated by the selections found here. Almost all are narrated by or from the point of view of people who are young and confused at the start and who make very little progress by the end of pieces that are, in fact, mostly portraits rather than stories. The young WASP of Lindsay Fleming's ``The Slipper'' manages to lose his father, get married, disgrace himself, and go crazy all without the least intimation of drama: His decline comes about as naturally as the winding-down of a cocktail party. In Denise Simard's ``Tallulah at Your Feet,'' a badly stalled college grad walks dogs for a living and dates a boring lout for no good reason other than loneliness and sloth; the pathetic crush she develops on a married man, offered as the climax, is described triumphantly though it seems merely desperate. The best entries tend to be the ``culture narratives''—e.g., Caroline Cheng's ``Consolation'' or Julie Rold's ``Bloodlines''- -which describe and take place within a cohesive and well-defined social milieu, the Philippines, say, or the German communities of the Midwest, more successful mainly because they're the more likely to rely upon narration, description, and plot for effect. Most of the others—like Adam Schroeder's ``The Distance Between Prague and New Orleans'' (a narcissistic actor fakes an epiphany in a cemetery)—seem to be engaging in various forms of self-absorption or self-analysis that may be good for the authors' souls but does little for their writing. Dreadfully dull and unbearably pompous. If really a foretaste of literary trends, to be read while weeping.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-83314-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1996

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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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