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SHOTGUN LOVESONGS

Despite some soap-opera machinations and occasional literary overreach, the novel will strike a responsive chord in any...

A debut novel that delves so deeply into the small-town heartland that readers will accept its flaws as part of its charm.

“Write what you know” is the first dictum directed toward aspiring fiction writers, and there’s no doubt that Butler knows his fictional Little Wing inside out. It’s a Wisconsin farm town not far from Eau Claire, where the author was raised, and it holds a central place in the hearts of those who came of age there—particularly the four men who were boyhood friends and who narrate the novel’s alternating chapters, along with the fifth, a woman who was the childhood sweetheart of at least two of them. Beth and Henry are the married couple who remained to farm in Little Wing and, despite their financial struggles, are in some ways the envy of the others. Lee, who is Henry’s best friend, has become “America’s most famous flannel-wearing indie troubadour,” an artist so successful he hobnobs with those that others know mainly from celebrity magazines. But he only feels at home in Little Wing, where he found his voice and wrote the songs on the album that catapulted him to fame (and gives the novel its title). Kip made millions for others and did well for himself as a broker in Chicago but has returned to Little Wing to restore its mill as a commercial center and to show off the beautiful woman who will be his wife. Ronny left town as a rodeo rider and an alcoholic and has returned to recover after a brain-damaging mishap. There are four weddings in the novel, a few separations, a bunch of drunken adventures and confessions, and a fairly preposterous ending. But there is also a profound empathy for the characters and the small-town dynamic that the reader will likely share, an appreciation for what “America was, or could be.”

Despite some soap-opera machinations and occasional literary overreach, the novel will strike a responsive chord in any reader who has found his life reflected in a Bob Seger song.

Pub Date: March 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-03981-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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THEN SHE WAS GONE

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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ABSOLUTE POWER

The mother of all presidential cover-ups is the centerpiece gimmick in this far-fetched thriller from first-novelist Baldacci, a Washington-based attorney. In the dead of night, while burgling an exurban Virginia mansion, career criminal Luther Whitney is forced to conceal himself in a walk-in closet when Christine Sullivan, the lady of the house, arrives in the bedroom he's ransacking with none other than Alan Richmond, President of the US. Through the one-way mirror, Luther watches the drunken couple engage in a bout of rough sex that gets out of hand, ending only when two Secret Service men respond to the Chief Executive's cries of distress and gun down the letter-opener-wielding Christy. Gloria Russell, Richmond's vaultingly ambitious chief of staff, orders the scene rigged to look like a break-in and departs with the still befuddled President, leaving Christy's corpse to be discovered at another time. Luther makes tracks as well, though not before being spotted on the run by agents from the bodyguard detail. Aware that he's shortened his life expectancy, Luther retains trusted friend Jack Graham, a former public defender, but doesn't tell him the whole story. When Luther's slain before he can be arraigned for Christy's murder, Jack concludes he's the designated fall guy in a major scandal. Meanwhile, little Gloria (together with two Secret Service shooters) hopes to erase all tracks that might lead to the White House. But the late Luther seems to have outsmarted her in advance with recurrent demands for hush money. The body count rises as Gloria's attack dogs and Jack search for the evidence cunning Luther's left to incriminate not only a venal Alan Richmond but his homicidal deputies. The not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper climax provides an unsurprising answer to the question of whether a US president can get away with murder. For all its arresting premise, an overblown and tedious tale of capital sins. (Film rights to Castle Rock; Book-of-the-Month selection)

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 1996

ISBN: 0-446-51996-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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