Hempel’s great gift is that her indirection only leads us further inward, toward the place where her characters must finally...

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The first collection in more than a decade from Hempel offers a dizzying array of short fiction held together by the unmistakable textures of her voice.

Hempel is often called a minimalist, and that aesthetic is very much in evidence here. Of the 15 stories, 10 are two pages or shorter in length, but if you think this means they’re slight, you’ll want to think again. Rather, Hempel packs a lot into her narrow spaces: nuance, longing, love, and loss. “At the end, he said, No metaphors!” she writes in the title story. “…So—at the end, I made my hands a hammock for him. My arms the trees.” The effect is to articulate an idea and then to illustrate it simultaneously. “That reminds me of when I knew a romance was over,” she opens “The Quiet Car,” reminding us that all stories begin in the middle, with the characters’ lives already underway. And yet, for all the succinct deftness of these shorter pieces, it is in the collection’s longer entries that Hempel’s vision takes full shape. The remarkable “A Full-Service Shelter,” inspired by her longtime animal advocacy, uses a repeating structure—each paragraph begins with a variation of the phrase “They knew us as the ones”—to draw us into the futility and necessity of caring for dogs who have been abandoned, a tension that animates the narrative. “Greed” traces a wife’s simmering vengeance against the older woman who is sleeping with her husband; the interloper is appropriately named “Mrs. Greed.” Then, there’s Cloudland, a novella that fills much of the second half of the book, the saga of a disgraced private school teacher doing home-care work in Florida who gave up for adoption the child she bore at 18. Constructed as a collection of fragments, the narrative circles itself, moving back and forth in time and often leaving the most important details unshared. The brilliance of the writing, however, resides in the way Hempel manages to tell us everything in spite of her narrator’s reticence, teaching us to read between the lines. “I remember thinking,” she writes: “There will never come a time when I will not be thinking of this. And I was right. And I was wrong.”

Hempel’s great gift is that her indirection only leads us further inward, toward the place where her characters must finally reckon with themselves.

Pub Date: March 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-0911-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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