A localized but no less powerful look at the prologue to Emancipation.


When an abolitionist convention comes to Utica, New York, in 1835, mayhem both public and private ensues.

In this eloquent debut, a diverse cast of characters embodies the political, class, and racial upheavals of its time and milieu, and does it all in living local color. Helen, an orphan raised in a genteel finishing school for young ladies, is wed in a quasi-arranged marriage to Galway, a prosperous older widower. Her naïveté regarding the issues of the day—in school she was taught that Southern masters treated their slaves like family—is tested when Imari and her son, Joe, escapees from a Virginia plantation, turn up in Galway’s shed. Helen’s domicile is further disrupted when Galway breaks his leg in a drunken fall, ushering quack doctor McCooke into their midst, as lecherous as he is incompetent. Meanwhile, Pryce, a young man unsure of his career path, pays more welcome attention to Helen. The streets of Utica come alive, especially as observed by minor characters—Owen Sylvanus, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, Alvan Stewart, a crusading lawyer leading the abolitionists, and Horace Wilberforce, a fishmonger and fixer. Utica’s section of the Erie Canal, where freighters are hauled by mules along a towpath, is vividly evoked. Slave catchers have arrived, not only menacing Imari and Joe, but rallying the mob against the abolitionists. Galway himself opposes abolition—instead, he advocates sending American Blacks to colonize Liberia. His servant, Maggie, who was formerly enslaved by his family, is a force to be reckoned with. Since Helen is the second Mrs. Galway, the title provides a clue to explosive family secrets. The text treads very carefully when treating the subject of slavery, and, occasionally, unavoidable echoes of today’s world lead to didactic moments that feel anachronistic. Often, when too many characters crowd into a scene, the logistics can verge on unintentional farce. But despite Sinnott’s extensive research into her hometown and its role in abolition, the pace is never slowed by excessive detail.

A localized but no less powerful look at the prologue to Emancipation.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-61775-842-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Kaylie Jones/Akashic

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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A loose-limbed, bighearted Hollywood yarn.


A fictional account of the agony and ecstasy of making a movie, from someone who’d know.

For his sprightly debut novel, actor/writer/national treasure Hanks—author of the story collection Uncommon Type, 2017—imagines the making of Knightshade: The Lathe of Firefall, a mashup of Marvel-esque superhero fare, war story, and artsy melodrama. The movie’s concept seems like an unworkable, even bad idea, which is part of the point—Hanks stresses the notion that successful movies aren’t just a matter of story but the people who make them. So he’s assembled an engrossing cast of characters: Bob Falls, the World War II vet who served as a flamethrower in the Pacific theater and became a PTSD–struck biker; Robby Andersen, the nephew who turned him into alternative-comix antihero Firefall; Bill Johnson, the well-decorated Spielberg-ian director who acquires the Firefall property and writes the script; and the small army of actors, assistants, and technicians charged with shooting the film in the Northern California town of Lone Butte—on time, lest morale collapse and the budget inflate. Hanks ably depicts how easily things derail. The male lead’s ego wrecks the shooting schedule. A stray social media post complicates security. On-set flirtations threaten a marriage. But the novel reflects the sunny stick-to-it-iveness of many of Hanks’ roles, and his central thesis is that every movie’s true hero is anybody who reduces friction. To that end, his most enchanting and best-drawn characters are the director’s assistant, Al Mac-Teer (full name Allicia), and Ynez Gonzalez-Cruz, a ride-share driver with no movie experience but a knack for problem-solving. “Most of the film business is done by meeting folks,” one character says, and Hanks suggests that meeting the right people—and being kind to them—is half the battle of successful moviemaking. Overly romantic? Consider the source. Regardless, it’s a well-turned tale of a Hollywood (maybe) success. (Sikoryak illustrates some comic-book pages related to the Firefall backstory and film.)

A loose-limbed, bighearted Hollywood yarn.

Pub Date: May 9, 2023

ISBN: 9780525655596

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2023

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