A thought-provoking story about families and the animals who sustain them.


A single mother and her son raise a steer with hopes of winning a cash prize in the local 4-H competition.

Complicated relationships layer this story, set in the early 1950s in South Carolina. Sarah Creamer unexpectedly becomes a mother to the baby who resulted from her best friend's affair with her husband after her friend commits suicide following the delivery. Nearly seven years later, Sarah’s husband drinks himself to death, leaving her a single mother solely responsible for paying the family’s debts. Desperate to provide her son, Emerson Bridge, with food, Sarah makes a dress to sell to the wealthy Mildred Dobbins, wife of the cattleman and landowner Luther Dobbins. After Sarah reads about a steer winning $680 in a competition, she buys a calf from Luther in hopes that Emerson Bridge will win the championship the next year to raise their family out of poverty—and thinking that the calf would be a friend for her son. The young steer, Lucky, is soon joined in the Creamers’ yard by his mother, who broke through the Dobbins’ fences to find her calf. As Sarah struggles with how to be a good mother to Emerson Bridge, she looks to the mother cow, whom she names Mama Red, for guidance and also forms an unlikely friendship with Mildred Dobbins. The two families become further entangled since the Dobbins’ son, LC, is also raising a steer for the 4-H competition. Emerson Bridge and LC become friends and the stakes become even higher as Luther, who desperately wants his family to win the contest, turns increasingly violent and erratic. Through all of these connections, McClain’s first novel resists predictability and instead weaves together questions about poverty, class, violence, and religion as these two families question what parent-child relationships should be. The short, clipped sentences can make the story difficult to follow at times, but the language does help establish Sarah more fully as a character. Sarah's relationship with Mama Red sometimes obscures the development of other relationships, such as the one between Sarah and her landlord, and the ending perhaps reaches a bit too much toward a closure that the characters themselves won’t find.

A thought-provoking story about families and the animals who sustain them.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61117-746-6

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Univ. of South Carolina

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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