An unsatisfying mix of melodrama and the mundane.

EVERY LAST ONE

Essayist and novelist Quindlen (Good Dog. Stay., 2007, etc.) tosses a grenade of murderous mayhem into the middle of an otherwise standard-issue novel of manners about an upper-middle-class community in Vermont. 

Mary Beth Latham, who runs a landscaping business, and her eye-doctor husband Glen are the parents of 14-year-old twins Alex and Max and 17-year-old Ruby. The first half of the novel is Mary Beth’s self-deprecating yet vaguely self-congratulatory narration of her family’s life. Mary Beth’s marriage to dull but decent Glen continues on middle-aged simmer. Soccer star Alex is as popular in his way as self-confident iconoclast Ruby, who is past her little bout of anorexia. Only Max, geeky and socially awkward, seems to be struggling. Although he does seem to like his therapist—by coincidence a specialist in twins and a twin himself—his only friend is Ruby’s boyfriend Kiernan. But Ruby has outgrown Kiernan, who continues to hang around the house mooning after her and adopting the Lathams as a surrogate family since his own parents’ nasty divorce. Mary Beth deals with small business crises and her Mexican workman. She and her friends commiserate over their children, although not their marriages, in admirable if not quite believable rectitude. Then Kiernan, whose mental problems Mary Beth has either missed or ignored, although they’ll seem pretty apparent to the reader, goes berserk and commits a horrendous act of violence against Mary Beth’s family. Only Mary Beth and Alex survive, and the remainder of the book details their road to emotional recovery. Unfortunately, while Quindlen’s a pro at writing about the quotidian details in the life of a bourgeois Everywoman like Mary Beth, the actual plot is hard to swallow. The murders are too obviously meant to shock. Mary Beth’s guilt over a brief affair she had with Kiernan’s womanizing dad years ago rings false. And the outpouring of support she receives from friends and family is too saccharinely redemptive. 

An unsatisfying mix of melodrama and the mundane.

Pub Date: April 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6574-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 31, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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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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THE GREAT ALONE

In 1974, a troubled Vietnam vet inherits a house from a fallen comrade and moves his family to Alaska.

After years as a prisoner of war, Ernt Allbright returned home to his wife, Cora, and daughter, Leni, a violent, difficult, restless man. The family moved so frequently that 13-year-old Leni went to five schools in four years. But when they move to Alaska, still very wild and sparsely populated, Ernt finds a landscape as raw as he is. As Leni soon realizes, “Everyone up here had two stories: the life before and the life now. If you wanted to pray to a weirdo god or live in a school bus or marry a goose, no one in Alaska was going to say crap to you.” There are many great things about this book—one of them is its constant stream of memorably formulated insights about Alaska. Another key example is delivered by Large Marge, a former prosecutor in Washington, D.C., who now runs the general store for the community of around 30 brave souls who live in Kaneq year-round. As she cautions the Allbrights, “Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next. There’s a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.” Hannah’s (The Nightingale, 2015, etc.) follow-up to her series of blockbuster bestsellers will thrill her fans with its combination of Greek tragedy, Romeo and Juliet–like coming-of-age story, and domestic potboiler. She re-creates in magical detail the lives of Alaska's homesteaders in both of the state's seasons (they really only have two) and is just as specific and authentic in her depiction of the spiritual wounds of post-Vietnam America.

A tour de force.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-312-57723-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

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