A superb, spiky exploration of artistic motivation.

INNOCENTS AND OTHERS

The complex relationship among three women and the film world drives this tale of technology and its discontents.

Much like Spiotta's previous novel, Stone Arabia (2011), this book is anchored by a fringe artist: Meadow built her career on experimental, Errol Morris–esque documentaries on tough subjects like the Kent State shootings and the Argentine Dirty War. That work brought her controversy but also acclaim and the freedom to write her own ticket creatively. So why, as the story opens, is she spinning a tale on a film blog about how she spent a year after high school as a consort to an aging Orson Welles? The answer isn’t plain or immediate, but Spiotta, master of austere indirection, introduces a pair of additional characters who hint at an answer. One is Jelly, a woman who for years insinuated herself into the lives of Hollywood producer types, cold-calling them with no ambition beyond building a friendship over the phone. (She calls it a " 'pure' call experience.") The other is Meadow’s childhood friend Carrie, who for years gamely indulged Meadow’s avant-garde film geekery before pursuing a career creating more mainstream, crowd-pleasing fare. Which of them has followed the most authentic artistic path, and how much does her chosen media facilitate or stand in her way? In Meadow, Spiotta has imagined an emotionally robust character who struggles with these questions at turns with humor (as when she films a boyfriend getting drunk for a Warhol-esque essay film), empathy (as when Jelly becomes her subject), or, later, tragic pathos when she discovers the crushing extreme of what her dispassionate film style can uncover. Early on, she feels “her camera was a magic machine that made people reveal themselves whether they liked it or not.” There’s some darkness to that magic, Spiotta argues, but she also finds something miraculous in how technology can reveal us to ourselves. It’s as true of this novel as of Meadow’s oeuvre.

A superb, spiky exploration of artistic motivation.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-2272-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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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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Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping...

WITHOUT FAIL

From the Jack Reacher series , Vol. 6

When the newly elected Vice President’s life is threatened, the Secret Service runs to nomadic soldier-of-fortune Jack Reacher (Echo Burning, 2001, etc.) in this razor-sharp update of The Day of the Jackal and In the Line of Fire that’s begging to be filmed.

Why Reacher? Because M.E. Froelich, head of the VP’s protection team, was once a colleague and lover of his late brother Joe, who’d impressed her with tales of Jack’s derring-do as an Army MP. Now Froelich and her Brooks Brothers–tailored boss Stuyvesant have been receiving a series of anonymous messages threatening the life of North Dakota Senator/Vice President–elect Brook Armstrong. Since the threats may be coming from within the Secret Service’s own ranks—if they aren’t, it’s hard to see how they’ve been getting delivered—they can’t afford an internal investigation. Hence the call to Reacher, who wastes no time in hooking up with his old friend Frances Neagley, another Army vet turned private eye, first to see whether he can figure out a way to assassinate Armstrong, then to head off whoever else is trying. It’s Reacher’s matter-of-fact gift to think of everything, from the most likely position a sniper would assume at Armstrong’s Thanksgiving visit to a homeless shelter to the telltale punctuation of one of the threats, and to pluck helpers from the tiny cast who can fill the remaining gaps because they aren’t idiots or stooges. And it’s Child’s gift to keep tightening the screws, even when nothing’s happening except the arrival of a series of unsigned letters, and to convey a sense of the blank impossibility of guarding any public figure from danger day after highly exposed day, and the dedication and heroism of the agents who take on this daunting job.

Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping himself these days.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14861-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2002

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