Come for the author’s gift with language, but don’t expect it to offer you peace of mind.

THE SUICIDE OF CLAIRE BISHOP

A complex exploration of tricky memories.

Relying on an unreliable narrator is always risky, and Banasky elevates that risk to high art in her audacious but uneven debut. First we meet Claire, a gloomy 1950s housewife sitting for a portrait. The painter, Nicolette, attracts and disquiets her—then renders an oil-and-canvas vision of Claire’s suicide that haunts everyone who sees it, including the subject. Fast-forward to 2004, the era of West, whose compulsions propel much of the story. West has schizophrenia, and as he tries to track down a former lover (also a painter named Nicolette) whose work obsesses him, he yanks us deeper into the unsolvable labyrinth of his mind. Each section tackles a different point in the years between the painting’s creation and West’s attempt to recapture it, and though it frequently gets lost or stolen or damaged, Claire’s portrait is the only focal point in a craggy landscape. This can feel either exhilarating or exhausting, depending on the strength of your stomach. It bears mentioning that Banasky writes beautifully and with great empathy: in one quiet sequence, Claire cares for her estranged mother as the older woman succumbs to Alzheimer’s; in another, West pays his parents a surprise visit so he can try to connect with Nicolette via a portal in his childhood bedroom. Come to think of it, all the broken souls here do share one thing besides a sinister painting—a dicey relationship with the past. So if you’re comfortable with uncertainty, you’ll feel right at home in Banasky’s imagination.

Come for the author’s gift with language, but don’t expect it to offer you peace of mind.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-938103-08-7

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Dzanc

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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