Imperfectly realized and disturbingly enigmatic, but quite fascinating.

A FAR COUNTRY

What seems little more than inchoate allegory gradually mutates into intriguing parable in this teasingly unconventional second novel from the California author of The Piano Tuner (2002).

Fourteen-year-old Isabel is on a search for her older brother Isaias, who left their drought-ridden village (“one day,” we’re informed, to be “name[d] Saint Michael in the Cane”) to live in “the Settlements” outside a thriving city imperiled by an ongoing war. Generic topographical and ethnic detail suggest a South American or (more likely) Southeast Asian setting, but the real point is the universality of the siblings’ experiences. Isaias, only a remembered presence throughout much of the narrative, is energetic and hopeful, a promising musician seeking a remunerative professional career. The more passive Isabel steels herself to follow him, moving to the settlement of New Eden, where she lives with her cousin Manuela and cares for the latter’s baby. The novel’s content is so unspecific and constrained that very little seems to happen in Isabel’s new life. Still, Mason patiently builds a horrific picture of poverty, violent crime and ongoing exploitation; a nightmare from which Isabel finds only sporadic relief (in her part-time job as a political-campaign worker, and a near-romance with a gentle itinerant “portrait seller”), plunging repeatedly into consecutive disappointments (at a hospital mental ward where she’s relieved not to find Isaias, and a frustrating visit to the Department of Disappeared Persons). Mason keeps the reader off guard and guessing, and it doesn’t always work: There are stretches during which the novel feels tentative and forced. But there’s a terrific payoff—a riveting climactic scene in which Isabel believes she sees Isaias in the street, and follows him to “the source,” which will direct countless others onto the path the two of them have traveled.

Imperfectly realized and disturbingly enigmatic, but quite fascinating.

Pub Date: March 6, 2007

ISBN: 0-375-41466-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2007

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

more