A compelling and brooding read.

COUNTRY DARK

The title hints at the tone, for this is indeed a Southern gothic story, set in Kentucky and focused on a man who would do anything to keep his family together.

Offutt's (My Father, the Pornographer, 2015, etc.) first fiction in almost two decades opens in 1954, when Tucker is coming back from the Korean War with 11 medals—and he’s not even 18. On the way home through rural Kentucky he stops a man from raping Rhonda, a 14-year-old girl, and he finds the potential rapist is not only the girl’s uncle, but also the deputy sheriff. Rhonda and her rescuer rather casually decide to marry, and Tucker makes a living making moonshine runs for Beanpole, an unfathomably corrupt, 350-pound colossus. The narrative then shifts to 1964, when Tucker and Rhonda have five children the state is threatening to remove from their home. It turns out that of the five, only Jo is “right,” the others having varying degrees of physical or emotional disability. But disabilities or not, Tucker and Rhonda love them all and don’t want the family separated. Blind with rage, Tucker hunts down and kills the social worker who was most adamant about taking his children. Using his connections, Beanpole gets Tucker a reduced sentence, but prison ultimately becomes a place where “Tucker retreated further into himself while increasing his vigilance” against fellow prisoners out to get him. The final part of the novel takes place when Tucker is released in 1971. He feels Beanpole cheated him when he was incarcerated, and now he’s looking for revenge. Offutt has a fine ear for Kentucky-speak and is able to make small shifts in vocabulary that capture the rhythms of rural conversation (“Hidy....Come on up and set a spell”). And Tucker is a knotty and complex character—warm and loving toward his family but cold and threatening toward almost everyone else.

A compelling and brooding read.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2779-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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