Cummins (stories: Red Ant House, 2003) avoids distracting polemics, interweaving the personal and political with quiet...

YELLOWCAKE

The title refers to the noxious dust produced by a uranium mill in the Four Corners region of the Southwest, where this complex, unusually mature debut novel takes place.

In 1991, years after the mill’s closing, former workers and their families still suffer from the fumes’ toxic effects. Ryland Mahoney, a former mill supervisor now dependent on his oxygen tank, refuses to connect his early poor health to his mill work. Although his wife Rosy attends meetings, he wants nothing to do with a group forming to sue for compensation. One member of that group is Becky Atcitty, a loan officer at the local bank, whose father, Woody, worked with Ryland and is now, at 46, dying of cancer. The Mahoneys are Irish Catholic, the Atcittys Navajo. They live in largely separate worlds that sometimes intersect and occasionally collide. Ryland’s best friend, Sam, another mill worker, left Rosy’s sister Lily for Woody’s sister Alice. Sixteen at the time, Alice bore Sam’s child—Delmar—but would not marry him. Now living in Florida and nearly destitute, Sam comes home to attend Ryland’s daughter’s wedding. Discovering that Lily never finalized their divorce, Sam “extorts” money from her. Sam desperately wants to see Alice, who is away on the rodeo circuit. Instead, he tries to reestablish his paternal connection with Delmar for the first time in years. After a short prison stint, Delmar is genuinely, touchingly trying to go straight. Woody soon dies, and Sam helps Delmar and his grandmother try, unsuccessfully, to ensure that he receives a proper Navajo funeral. Becky, who has begun a tentative romance with a Navajo teacher, finds herself caught between loyalty to her father’s Navajo traditions and her mother’s more assimilated Christianity. While Ryland, Sam and Woody have allowed themselves to become victims, Becky and Delmar ultimately learn how to control their own destinies.

Cummins (stories: Red Ant House, 2003) avoids distracting polemics, interweaving the personal and political with quiet authority.

Pub Date: March 15, 2007

ISBN: 0-618-26926-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2006

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

THEN SHE WAS GONE

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. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it...

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THE DUTCH HOUSE

Their mother's disappearance cements an unbreakable connection between a pair of poor-little-rich-kid siblings.

Like The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer or Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach, this is a deeply pleasurable book about a big house and the family that lives in it. Toward the end of World War II, real estate developer and landlord Cyril Conroy surprises his wife, Elna, with the keys to a mansion in the Elkins Park neighborhood of Philadelphia. Elna, who had no idea how much money her husband had amassed and still thought they were poor, is appalled by the luxurious property, which comes fully furnished and complete with imposing portraits of its former owners (Dutch people named VanHoebeek) as well as a servant girl named Fluffy. When her son, Danny, is 3 and daughter, Maeve, is 10, Elna's antipathy for the place sends her on the lam—first occasionally, then permanently. This leaves the children with the household help and their rigid, chilly father, but the difficulties of the first year pale when a stepmother and stepsisters appear on the scene. Then those problems are completely dwarfed by further misfortune. It's Danny who tells the story, and he's a wonderful narrator, stubborn in his positions, devoted to his sister, and quite clear about various errors—like going to medical school when he has no intention of becoming a doctor—while utterly committed to them. "We had made a fetish out of our disappointment," he says at one point, "fallen in love with it." Casually stated but astute observations about human nature are Patchett's (Commonwealth, 2016, etc.) stock in trade, and she again proves herself a master of aging an ensemble cast of characters over many decades. In this story, only the house doesn't change. You will close the book half believing you could drive to Elkins Park and see it.

Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it contains.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-296367-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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