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SYLVIA AND TED

It matters little, in the end, whether the book is “true,” being, as it is, exploitative, high-handed, and tedious.

Yes, that Sylvia and Ted. Tennant returns with a short novel that tries to represent the marriage of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, a hectic union that ended with Plath’s suicide in 1963.

At the time of Plath’s death, Hughes was already living with another woman, Assia Wevill, who later bore him a daughter and, much later, also killed herself—and the daughter. It’s a grisly story, and by now a familiar one, especially to the many Plath devotees who see Hughes (who died in 1998) as nothing short of a murderer. Sylvia and Ted won’t change their minds. “Drawn to the subject partly as a result of her past relationship with Hughes,” Tennant (Emma in Love, 1998, etc.) describes the man with considerable malice: he is a “monstrous tyrant,” a selfish brute who slays deer, molests ant mounds and preys on teenaged girls. With animals, he “kills, and loves to kill”; with women it’s much the same. Tennant begins with Sylvia’s childhood and ends with Assia’s decline, and in between there is very little dialogue or directly-depicted action; the author delivers instead a long series of foggily described “moments”: Sylvia getting dressed, Ted fornicating in the fields, and so on. The story here relies heavily on the reader’s foreknowledge of its major events, and anyone without such information will probably find the whole thing unintelligible. Those hoping for an “inside” look at the Plath-Hughes affair will come away empty-handed: Tennant’s emphasis on crude mythical parallels (Plath as Procne, Hughes as Tereus) is far more developed than her anecdotal reporting, and there are no startling revelations about private identities. The portentous prose grates (we see Sylvia “go forth to meet her doom” on the night she meets Ted), and the occasional unintended humor (as when Ted’s young lover thinks of him as “Jack Palance”) serves to trivialize everyone involved.

It matters little, in the end, whether the book is “true,” being, as it is, exploitative, high-handed, and tedious.

Pub Date: May 12, 2001

ISBN: 0-8050-6675-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2001

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IT ENDS WITH US

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of...

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Hoover’s (November 9, 2015, etc.) latest tackles the difficult subject of domestic violence with romantic tenderness and emotional heft.

At first glance, the couple is edgy but cute: Lily Bloom runs a flower shop for people who hate flowers; Ryle Kincaid is a surgeon who says he never wants to get married or have kids. They meet on a rooftop in Boston on the night Ryle loses a patient and Lily attends her abusive father’s funeral. The provocative opening takes a dark turn when Lily receives a warning about Ryle’s intentions from his sister, who becomes Lily’s employee and close friend. Lily swears she’ll never end up in another abusive home, but when Ryle starts to show all the same warning signs that her mother ignored, Lily learns just how hard it is to say goodbye. When Ryle is not in the throes of a jealous rage, his redeeming qualities return, and Lily can justify his behavior: “I think we needed what happened on the stairwell to happen so that I would know his past and we’d be able to work on it together,” she tells herself. Lily marries Ryle hoping the good will outweigh the bad, and the mother-daughter dynamics evolve beautifully as Lily reflects on her childhood with fresh eyes. Diary entries fancifully addressed to TV host Ellen DeGeneres serve as flashbacks to Lily’s teenage years, when she met her first love, Atlas Corrigan, a homeless boy she found squatting in a neighbor’s house. When Atlas turns up in Boston, now a successful chef, he begs Lily to leave Ryle. Despite the better option right in front of her, an unexpected complication forces Lily to cut ties with Atlas, confront Ryle, and try to end the cycle of abuse before it’s too late. The relationships are portrayed with compassion and honesty, and the author’s note at the end that explains Hoover’s personal connection to the subject matter is a must-read.

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of the survivors.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1036-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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