In the latest Best American collection of 20, Erdrich makes all the expected and rightful choices—stories by John Updike, Alice Munro, Diane Johnson, Larry Woiwode, Mary Gordon, each of which rests on its own crafted base quite securely. She also makes two or three stabs toward the expressionistic—Stephen Dixon's "Man, Woman, and Boy"; Thom Jones's "I Want To Live"; Harlan Ellison's "The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore." The overall impression of her choosings, though, is one of a tamed, blue-chip, safety-first congregation. Pieces by Andrea Lee, Mary Gaitskill, Alice Fulton, and Kim Edwards tightly hug their own moods but can't be amplified, be made to haunt; the few flaky, "voice driven" pieces—Tony Earley's "Charlotte" and Lorrie Moore's "Terrific Mother"—try too hard by half to achieve their zaniness. The best things here are a glitteringly sociological portrait of teenagers, "Poltergeists" by Jane Shapiro; a beautifully held-back, paced domestic story, "Naked Ladies," by the ever-more impressive Antonya Nelson; and the chaste symphonics of Wendell Berry's tale of destruction and forgiveness, "Pray Without Ceasing." These three stories are so outside—in a world allowed to feel as if beyond the control of their authors—that they seem sculptural. Everything else around them, their cohorts in this volume, come off in by as merely, if skillfully, anecdotal.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 1993

ISBN: 0-395-63628-0

Page Count: 395

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1993

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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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