Rush of Shadows

A vividly imagined historical drama of racial tension on America’s last frontier.
Spanning the turbulent years between 1855 and 1867, Bell’s debut novel follows the trials and tribulations of young newlywed and soon-to-be mother Mellie Pickett after she leaves the metropolis of San Francisco for the wilderness of Northern California with her husband, Law—“a man who could hardly read, a man who said ‘the-ay-ter’ and had never been inside one.” While the debate about slavery intensifies elsewhere in the country, Mellie and Law encounter a different conflict in their new home, which lies between the indigenous people native to the land and the white settlers arriving in search of unblemished country. Law is distrustful of—but not hateful toward—their neighbors, while Mellie, inspired by the example of her progressive father, makes an effort to better understand their customs and way of life. In the process, she develops a friendship with a healer woman she calls Bahé—whose skepticism about Mellie’s naïvely good intentions (“Got to be grown and still didn’t know how the earth gives and takes”) makes her easily the most likable character. Bell’s richly textured, well-researched narrative, which alternates between first-person chapters narrated by Mellie and third-person chapters following Law, Bahé and the rest of the valley’s ever growing population, captures the settlers’ varied attitudes toward Native Americans, as well as the uncertainty and indiscriminate tragedy of frontier life. While Bell’s prose occasionally errs toward the overwrought (“[a] heartless moon burned over the corral,” “blood over his shoulders like a cloak,” etc.) and includes a few too many tired devices such as letters and dreams, she writes with a natural ease and authority. From its first line—“It was a beautiful country, though I hated and feared it”—Bell’s is a nuanced, intelligently crafted debut.
This complex, confident novel introduces a promising new voice in historical fiction.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1941551028

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Washington Writers' Publishing House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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Part of Hoffman's great talent is her wonderful ability to sift some magic into unlikely places, such as a latter-day Levittown (Seventh Heaven, 1990) or a community of divorcÇes in Florida (Turtle Moon, 1992). But in her 11th novel, a tale of love and life in New England, it feels as if the lid flew off the jar of magic—it blinds you with fairy dust. Sally and Gillian Owens are orphaned sisters, only 13 months apart, but such opposites in appearance and temperament that they're dubbed ``Day and Night'' by the two old aunts who are raising them. Sally is steady, Gillian is jittery, and each is wary, in her own way, about the frightening pull of love. They've seen the evidence for themselves in the besotted behavior of the women who call on the two aunts for charms and potions to help them with their love lives. The aunts grow herbs, make mysterious brews, and have a houseful of—what else?—black cats. The two girls grow up to flee (in opposite directions) from the aunts, the house, and the Massachusetts town where they've long been shunned by their superstitious schoolmates. What they can't escape is magic, which follows them, sometimes in a particularly malevolent form. And, ultimately, no matter how hard they dodge it, they have to recognize that love always catches up with you. As always, Hoffman's writing has plenty of power. Her best sentences are like incantations—they won't let you get away. But it's just too hard to believe the magic here, maybe because it's not so much practical magic as it is predictable magic, with its crones and bubbling cauldrons and hearts of animals pierced with pins. Sally and Gillian are appealing characters, but, finally, their story seems as murky as one of the aunts' potions—and just as hard to swallow. Too much hocus-pocus, not enough focus. (Book-of-the-Month Club selection)

Pub Date: June 14, 1995

ISBN: 0-399-14055-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Steinbeck's peculiarly intense simplicity of technique is admirably displayed in this vignette — a simple, tragic tale of Mexican little people, a story retold by the pearl divers of a fishing hamlet until it has the quality of folk legend. A young couple content with the humble living allowed them by the syndicate which controls the sale of the mediocre pearls ordinarily found, find their happiness shattered when their baby boy is stung by a scorpion. They dare brave the terrors of a foreign doctor, only to be turned away when all they can offer in payment is spurned. Then comes the miracle. Kino find a great pearl. The future looks bright again. The baby is responding to the treatment his mother had given. But with the pearl, evil enters the hearts of men:- ambition beyond his station emboldens Kino to turn down the price offered by the dealers- he determines to go to the capital for a better market; the doctor, hearing of the pearl, plants the seed of doubt and superstition, endangering the child's life, so that he may get his rake-off; the neighbors and the strangers turn against Kino, burn his hut, ransack his premises, attack him in the dark — and when he kills, in defense, trail him to the mountain hiding place- and kill the child. Then- and then only- does he concede defeat. In sorrow and humility, he returns with his Juana to the ways of his people; the pearl is thrown into the sea.... A parable, this, with no attempt to add to its simple pattern.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 1947

ISBN: 0140187383

Page Count: 132

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1947

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