A gut-punch of a bleak family saga that satisfies on many levels.

WHISKEY

Three generations of a Native American family struggle with hard lives, bad choices, and alcohol in this impressive novel.

In the summer of 1991 in the state of Washington, two brothers sit in their local tavern at a critical time. Andre is heading toward his second divorce from Claire, and Smoker (born Wendell but nicknamed for his boyhood habit of torching candy cigarettes) is hunting his wayward wife so he can retrieve his 10-year-old daughter, Raven. The siblings embark on an odyssey that weaves through the book in scattered sections. They capture a bear they keep in their camper for possible trade value and get involved in a variety of violence by fist and gun. As one character opines: “You boys ain’t run-of-the-mill crazy.” Other sections look back to the boys’ youth, to the troubled history of their parents, hard-drinking Pork and sexually adventurous Peg, and to Andre’s efforts to avoid whiskey and hold on to Claire. The jigsaw structure can frustrate, but Holbert (The Hour of Lead, 2014, etc.) is a canny writer, and soon the finely drawn fragments from the past percolate into 1991’s narrative and go far to explain why the brothers are rolling toward some reckoning. Like Cormac McCarthy, another bard of the modern West’s brutality, Holbert finds beauty and cruelty in the land, in the tease and punch of eloquently elliptical dialogue, and in the way humans struggle for love, self-knowledge, and a grip on life that won’t just burn their fingers. He writes terse prose whittled to essentials and grained with vernacular: “He smelled gamey as an elk and his breath made an awful racket.” His characters may well brand a reader’s memory.

A gut-punch of a bleak family saga that satisfies on many levels.

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-28918-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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