A fresh story weighed down by stale writing.

The River Within

An unconventional flirtation upends the lives of three women.

Trautman’s (Spirit of the Valley, 1998, etc.) fascinating heroine, Greer Madison, has forged a legendary career as a foreign correspondent in Russia and the Middle East—dodging bullets, drinking hard, chasing women and loving every minute of it. But now, “pushing fifty and nursing her third concussion,” Greer is tortured by guilt over the death of a young photographer she’d been wooing. She returns to California to recuperate at the home of old friends Doug and Darlene Richardson, who are dealing with their own grief at having lost a son in Iraq. Hard-living, openly gay Greer and reserved, traditional Darlene make an odd pair, but their friendship has spanned almost 30 years. This visit is different; Darlene refuses to discuss Chris, even with Doug or their daughter, Kate, and throws herself obsessively into homemaking and planning Kate’s upcoming wedding. Only Greer knows that Darlene is hiding the disturbing circumstances of Chris’ death from her family, a secret that consumes Darlene and threatens her marriage. Greer, pushed away by Darlene, becomes close with Kate, whose fascination with Greer’s adventurous life slowly reveals her ambivalence about the safe path she has chosen. The growing intimacy between Kate and Greer upsets the equilibrium of all three women and each is pushed to confront painful truths. Unfortunately, the emotional impact of these revelations is often dulled by the characters’ tendency to voice their feelings in platitudes and predictable metaphors. The shared love of modern poetry and penchant for quoting T.S. Eliot that connects the women only underscores Kate’s valley girl diction and Greer’s trite aphorisms. Chris’ letters home, which Darlene obsessively rereads, are similarly unsatisfying. As much of the book’s narrative is conveyed through letters and conversations, this leads to a flatness that is at odds with its dramatic subject matter. This is a shame, because the well-constructed plot is full of real surprises.

A fresh story weighed down by stale writing.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0984850815

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Baxter Clare Trautman

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2012

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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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