An enthralling family drama despite the author’s impulse to overnarrate.

ALL THE BROKEN PEOPLE

A woman wrestling with a dark past travels to her husband’s hometown and discovers that he’s plagued by secrets of his own.

In this novel, Alice Bennett is a successful magazine writer happily married to Will, a handsome, high-priced lawyer. But after she finally discloses unseemly secrets about her past—her father was “an abusive alcoholic” and she struggled with the same addiction—that breach of trust upends her marital bliss. So when her mother-in-law, Mae, is badly injured in a fall, Alice travels to the Georgia mountains to help her recover, an opportunity to curry favor with Will and slowly regain his affection. But as Mae’s memory begins to return—she had suffered a concussion and her recollection of the accident had been hazy—she comes to believe a man intentionally pushed her. Later, Mae’s dog is attacked; her property catches fire; and someone seems to have maliciously tampered with her medication. The police suspect Larry Lee Simms, known as one of the “town bullies” with a penchant for violence and petty crimes, who’s probably responsible for a string of recent burglaries. In addition, the Simms and Bennett families share a long history of unresolved acrimony and have “been at each other’s throats for generations.” As Alice digs deeper into the town’s buried past she learns Will harbors terrible secrets of his own and that his own checkered history is somehow woven into the mysterious danger that threatens Mae. Rivers (Best Laid Plans & Other Disasters, 2017, etc.) artfully conjures a melancholic atmosphere of dread, and the promise of unraveling a skein of closely guarded secrets keeps readers in a state of tantalizing suspense. The novel’s characters are vividly real and portrayed with great psychological nuance and moral sensitivity. But the author’s prose can be clumsily theatrical and sprinkled with clichés: “If looks could kill, he’d have been six feet under.” And she tries far too laboriously to explicitly draw moral edification from her own story, apparently anxious her readers aren’t paying attention: “She’d learned a very real and nearly fatal lesson about keeping secrets.”

An enthralling family drama despite the author’s impulse to overnarrate. 

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-578-42531-3

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Compathy Press, LLC.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2019

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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