Taut, beautifully written, and suspenseful, this resonant, feminist drama eschews easy answers. A page-turner of the highest...

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AFTER THE DAM

When one person’s political passion conflicts with the rest of her family's desires, tensions are inevitable.

Rachel Clayborne, Michael German, and their infant daughter, Deirdre, have been living in Illinois, close to the college where Michael teaches. Rachel has been halfheartedly working on a Ph.D. in environmental science, but, since giving birth, her energy has flagged and she’s begun questioning her commitment to the field. She’s also depressed and angry—doubting that she’s well-suited for the domesticity she’s somehow fallen into. She’s stewing, so when her dad phones and informs her that her grandmother, called Grand, is dying, she and Deirdre sneak off in the middle of the night and drive to the Farm, the Wisconsin home that's been in the Clayborne family for generations. Rachel doesn’t leave a note about their destination—she and the child just vanish while Michael sleeps. Once in Wisconsin, she and Grand easily reconnect, and despite Grand’s frailty and memory lapses, the pair are buoyed by one another. Still, tensions arise. The main issue involves Grand’s plan to leave the Farm to Diane Bishop, her Native American nurse and longtime friend, in essence returning the land to the Ojibwe people who once owned it. After all, Diane argues, the Claybornes acquired the property fraudulently and restoring it is simply making things right. Grand agrees, changes her will, and sets off a battle royal within the Clayborne family. Along the way, Rachel connects with her first love, Joe Bishop, Diane’s son and the caretaker of an area dam, and grapples with issues including marital fidelity, family ties, indigenous rights, and lifestyle preferences.

Taut, beautifully written, and suspenseful, this resonant, feminist drama eschews easy answers. A page-turner of the highest caliber.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-597-09753-6

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Red Hen Press

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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