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The Birthdays: A Novel Paperback – June 17, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (June 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393329933
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393329933
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 6.5 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #365,061 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It would be hard to find a more self-absorbed group of people than the Miller family, gathered on an island off the coast of Maine to celebrate the father's 75th birthday. He is the only person in The Birthdays who consistently reaches out--to his wife, his children, and even to his box turtle. His birthday becomes an afterthought amid all the familial angst the siblings and their spouses--and one conspicuous lack of a spouse--bring to the table.

Heidi Pitlor has portrayed her characters perfectly. She has limned them so well that we know about where they will be on Joe's 76th birthday--at least emotionally. Daniel, the eldest, is a recent paraplegic, still coming to terms with his personal tragedy. His wife, Brenda, is pregnant through the services of a sperm donor, and Daniel is obsessed about who he is, what he looks like, and any detail he can imagine about him. He feels unmanned enough by his accident; now he is going to be the putative father of his wife's child with this stranger. Jake, the middle child, at whose home the festivities take place, is a roaring success in the world's eyes: great houses, lots of money, good job, the respect of his peers--but his wife needed in vitro fertilization to conceive and now she is pregnant with twins. His childhood neediness has never disappeared, despite his accomplishments. He is prescriptive, critical, petulant, and his wife has lost interest in sex. He is not exactly a charming host, though he tries. Hilary, the youngest, still a flower child at 35, is six months pregnant and has no clue who the father is. Her brothers are not unaware of how easy it was for the irresponsible, non-planner, barely able to care for herself, to conceive a child. Fecundity abounds, however arrived at.

As everyone straggles in, Joe's wife, Ellen, is filling her time fantasizing about their friend, MacNeil, over whom she has created such a personal and intimate scenario that she goes to the telephone and calls him, much to his confusion. It is a telling moment, one of several "epiphanies" showing the reader the way to each character's interior landscape.

An event takes place which saddens everyone and changes the dynamic of the event and of all the people involved. Arrangements are made that were unthought of at the beginning of the birthday celebration, most of which are more authentic than the roles they brought with them. There are big themes examined here: aging, parenthood, letting go, fertility, illness, and one's place in the universe of the family. Heidi Pitlor does a terrific job of making us care about a group of people who seem, at first blush, to be only selfish and solipsistic. --Valerie Ryan --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

On a rainy summer weekend, the Miller clan gathers, for the first time in four years, at their summer house on an island off the coast of Maine to celebrate patriarch Joe's 75th birthday. Oldest son Daniel is in a wheelchair following a cycling accident; his wife, Brenda, is pregnant after having used a sperm donor, about whom Daniel is now obsessed. Younger son Jake, who spent his whole childhood feeling insecure and inferior to his siblings, is now more financially successful than either of them; his wife, Liz, is pregnant with twins following fertility treatments and has no interest in sex. The irresponsible youngest, Hilary, returns from the West Coast, also pregnant—and with no idea who the father is. As their children stand on the verge of becoming parents themselves, Ellen and Joe reflect on the daily heartbreak, tragedies and joys of parenthood, on the impossibility of ever keeping one's children safe. Rich in symbolism and a strong sense of place, Pitlor's debut novel, with its overlapping narrative perspectives, creates a multilayered portrait of family in all its fragility and its strength. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

HEIDI PITLOR is a former senior editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Her fiction has been published in Ploughshares, and she is the author of the novel The Birthdays.

Customer Reviews

Simply, beautifully written, with fascinating yet very relatable characters.
Voracious Reader
I felt like I knew the characters, as if they were my own family, and with the amount of supposedly good fiction I read that is quite a feat.
Sam Spade
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys general fiction and "a weekend in the life of a family" type books.
Melissa L. Brulotte

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Sam Spade on July 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I loved this. Got to say Ms Pitlor has real talent and depicts a setting so believable I thought I too had been in that Maine house. I felt like I knew the characters, as if they were my own family, and with the amount of supposedly good fiction I read that is quite a feat. I can't wait to read more from Heidi Pitlor, she's a rising star.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Sara J on July 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
and I truly loved this book! I felt like I took a weekend vacation with the Millers, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Even though the characters made unlikeable choices at times, it was these moments that made it all the more relatable and real to me- their struggles and flaws are what sucked me in and made me believe in them and this story. I am always looking for a book to grab me and keep me interested until the end, and Ms. Pitlor does this with ease in The Birthdays. Well done!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Andy T. on July 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This a fabulous book about family and all the lingering issues and resentments but also love and good feelings. Especially interesting if you're having children of your own since nearly all the women in the book are pregnant (all in different ways). I really liked the relationship between the sister and the older brother (who's in a wheelchair)--very real and funny--and the mother, who seems to have a healthy fantasy life.

The writing is really excellent, very much inside the heads of these characters. I noticed some of the other reviewers here said the characters seem unlikeable or self-absorbed. Well, I think they're supposed to be that way, right? I mean, it's their interior thoughts. That's the kind of book it is, the style of narration.

And the turtle is a perfect little detail...you'll see.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Frederick Giordano on July 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In THE BIRTHDAYS, Heidi Pitlor has constructed a powerful novel introducing in very human terms each member of the Miller family, and then convening them in a dramatic and electric meeting for father Joe's 75th birthday. That three out of three siblings are all expectant parents adds an important layer of drama and symbolism to the story. Pitlor describes the dynamics of family life to a "T"--each character's strengths, weaknesses, the unresolved family conflicts each carries over a lifetime, the childhood and parental roles each member slides into almost unconsciously, and the struggle of parents themselves to find their own way after their children leave the fold. As John Updyke has observed in so much of his work, it's fiercer in there--marriage and family--than anybody ever realizes. Pitlor nails this theme pitch-perfectly.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In a family reunion filled with unexpected events and revelations, The Birthdays proves not only that you can't go home again, but that everyone carries their own interpretations of family history. It is Joe Miller's seventy-fifth birthday and his children, Daniel, Jake and Hilary and their spouses are meeting at Jake's vacation home in Great Salt, Maine, for the celebration, a real occasion for a family that has not seen each other for a while and will soon be changed by the pregnancies of two daughters-in-law, Brenda and Liz, wives of Daniel and Jake, respectively. By next year the family will have grown exponentially, a fact anticipated by all. Much to everyone's surprise, thirty-five-year old, unmarried Hilary is also pregnant, adding another dramatic layer to the story.

Following the travels of each married couple on the way to Great Salt, including Joe and his wife, Ellen, it is clear that married life is complicated at best, the recent pregnancies only adding to the issues. Daniels' life has undergone the most challenges: he became a paraplegic in an auto accident a year and a half earlier, their child a product scientific intervention. Still adapting to his drastically altered body, Daniel is plagued with self-doubts, thrown into ill-humor and confusion by Brenda's increasing hormonal discontents. Although the brothers don't agree on much, Jake is reacting as well to his wife's incipient motherhood, IVF the method that has finally given the couple their dream of parenthood. But Jake is excessively needy, emotionally sensitive and increasingly irritating to his perfectionist wife. In contrast, Hilary is the consummate rebel, refusing to name the child's father, her life plans changing as opportunities arise.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By J. N Sandell on March 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book tells the story of how a family really is. Nothing is glossed over, there is no hidden meaning. For the time it took me to read this book, I was engulfed in the Miller family. I was saddened by all that they had to deal with, happy with the promise of a bright future and proud of thier love for one another even if they, at times, did not want to admit it to themselves. Heidi Pitlor has written one hell of a good first novel. She's obviously a talented writer and I look forward to more from her
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ashley Mary on June 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I found this book highly engaging.I will admit I was very surprised at how I was able to relate to the characters, being only seventeen years old and having never been pregnant or married. Pitlor describes every character without an ounce of bias, giving each character its fair representation no matter how they act or think. I have two older brothers, so it was very interesting to think that the three of us might be somewhat like the three siblings in this story in a couple decades. Today, everyone seems to be interested in autobiographies about unthinkable acts and excitement, but in the midst of this society Pitlor was able to create a story about the normal as well as what some might think of as the mundane trials of real life and family and was able to intrigue the character with her beautiful prose. I highly recommend this book and in fact have a waiting list of friends and family waiting to borrow my book as of now.
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