AGAINST THE COUNTRY

While Metcalf constantly impresses with his intelligence, his meta games and gnarly prose put such tough hurdles between the...

A boy’s school years in rural Virginia are marked by poverty, poultry, school bus torments and a brutish father, all of which would one day inspire him to tell his story with a ponderous postmodernist flair.

Labyrinthine sentences and metafictional antics make it difficult to separate style from substance in this variously humorous and bilious first novel. The narrator looks back from a distance of 30 years to the time in the early 1980s when his father uprooted the family of five from town life and planted them in a ramshackle house to endure a country life that’s a darker take on the faux-gothic of Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm. There’s much more than a nasty thing in the woodshed. The boy endures snakes, wasps, ticks, bullies and frequent disciplinary thrashings. Two long sections concern the daily horrors of the “yellow beast,” the “yellow metal scow” that ferries him to and from school for frequent fights; and there's a possibly symbolic tale of his chickens’ efforts to fly the coop. Elsewhere Metcalf focuses on the father and narrator-son. Along with his mean dad’s physical and psychological oppression, there are references to his former scholarship and serious literary interests. Bitterness and wit have a tug of war in this mock memoir, as when the narrator’s thoughts about his father lead to plays on the words “meaning” and “meanness.” But they also echo an earlier, earnest pledge to challenge his father “in the ancient art of meanness, to which ongoing contest I submit this humble text.”

While Metcalf constantly impresses with his intelligence, his meta games and gnarly prose put such tough hurdles between the reader and this thorny parable of pain’s memory that it’s hard to see him winning more than a special, devoted audience.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6269-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

THEN SHE WAS GONE

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

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. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

LOVE AND OTHER WORDS

With frank language and patient plotting, this gangly teen crush grows into a confident adult love affair.

Eleven years ago, he broke her heart. But he doesn’t know why she never forgave him.

Toggling between past and present, two love stories unfold simultaneously. In the first, Macy Sorensen meets and falls in love with the boy next door, Elliot Petropoulos, in the closet of her dad’s vacation home, where they hide out to discuss their favorite books. In the second, Macy is working as a doctor and engaged to a single father, and she hasn’t spoken to Elliot since their breakup. But a chance encounter forces her to confront the truth: what happened to make Macy stop speaking to Elliot? Ultimately, they’re separated not by time or physical remoteness but by emotional distance—Elliot and Macy always kept their relationship casual because they went to different schools. And as a teen, Macy has more to worry about than which girl Elliot is taking to the prom. After losing her mother at a young age, Macy is navigating her teenage years without a female role model, relying on the time-stamped notes her mother left in her father’s care for guidance. In the present day, Macy’s father is dead as well. She throws herself into her work and rarely comes up for air, not even to plan her upcoming wedding. Since Macy is still living with her fiance while grappling with her feelings for Elliot, the flashbacks offer steamy moments, tender revelations, and sweetly awkward confessions while Macy makes peace with her past and decides her future.

With frank language and patient plotting, this gangly teen crush grows into a confident adult love affair.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-2801-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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