A lyrical little novel about hope triumphing over adversity.

THE LIFE OF AN UNKNOWN MAN

Makine presents a story within a story and thus winds up focusing on the lives of two “unknown men.”

Ivan Shutov has been living in Paris for 20 years but has had only desultory success as a writer. Three years after he wrote a novel about Afghanistan, tensions flared up again in the region, so he was flattered to be invited as a guest on a television show, but his performance there left much to be desired. Meanwhile, his personal life is in shambles, for his girlfriend Léa, half the age of the 50-year-old Shutov, is calling it quits. (As a parting, sarcastic shot she points out that his name in Russian means “clown,” a move Shutov determines is not helpful for his self-esteem.) He had tried to capture some romance in the relationship by comparing their love to that found in Chekhov, but a nice irony is that the Chekhov story that he keeps alluding to is entitled “A Little Joke.” Shutov decides to return to St. Petersburg, in part to find his former lover, Yana, in the hope of rekindling the old flame. Instead, he gets much more than he expected by meeting Georgy Volsky in the boardinghouse where he’s staying. Volsky is an old man who lived through the siege of Leningrad and is now primarily known for being mute, but he opens up to Shutov, spinning out a tale of war, trauma, love and terrible beauty. He survived the siege both because of his devotion to his art (he’s a singer) and to his love, Mila, though in the Stalinist era they were both arrested on trumped charges of crimes against the Soviet state. Volsky’s quiet dignity ultimately helps Shutov see some of the superficiality of his own life.

A lyrical little novel about hope triumphing over adversity.

Pub Date: June 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-55597-614-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2012

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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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Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping...

WITHOUT FAIL

From the Jack Reacher series , Vol. 6

When the newly elected Vice President’s life is threatened, the Secret Service runs to nomadic soldier-of-fortune Jack Reacher (Echo Burning, 2001, etc.) in this razor-sharp update of The Day of the Jackal and In the Line of Fire that’s begging to be filmed.

Why Reacher? Because M.E. Froelich, head of the VP’s protection team, was once a colleague and lover of his late brother Joe, who’d impressed her with tales of Jack’s derring-do as an Army MP. Now Froelich and her Brooks Brothers–tailored boss Stuyvesant have been receiving a series of anonymous messages threatening the life of North Dakota Senator/Vice President–elect Brook Armstrong. Since the threats may be coming from within the Secret Service’s own ranks—if they aren’t, it’s hard to see how they’ve been getting delivered—they can’t afford an internal investigation. Hence the call to Reacher, who wastes no time in hooking up with his old friend Frances Neagley, another Army vet turned private eye, first to see whether he can figure out a way to assassinate Armstrong, then to head off whoever else is trying. It’s Reacher’s matter-of-fact gift to think of everything, from the most likely position a sniper would assume at Armstrong’s Thanksgiving visit to a homeless shelter to the telltale punctuation of one of the threats, and to pluck helpers from the tiny cast who can fill the remaining gaps because they aren’t idiots or stooges. And it’s Child’s gift to keep tightening the screws, even when nothing’s happening except the arrival of a series of unsigned letters, and to convey a sense of the blank impossibility of guarding any public figure from danger day after highly exposed day, and the dedication and heroism of the agents who take on this daunting job.

Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping himself these days.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14861-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2002

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