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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2001

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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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With frank language and patient plotting, this gangly teen crush grows into a confident adult love affair.


Eleven years ago, he broke her heart. But he doesn’t know why she never forgave him.

Toggling between past and present, two love stories unfold simultaneously. In the first, Macy Sorensen meets and falls in love with the boy next door, Elliot Petropoulos, in the closet of her dad’s vacation home, where they hide out to discuss their favorite books. In the second, Macy is working as a doctor and engaged to a single father, and she hasn’t spoken to Elliot since their breakup. But a chance encounter forces her to confront the truth: what happened to make Macy stop speaking to Elliot? Ultimately, they’re separated not by time or physical remoteness but by emotional distance—Elliot and Macy always kept their relationship casual because they went to different schools. And as a teen, Macy has more to worry about than which girl Elliot is taking to the prom. After losing her mother at a young age, Macy is navigating her teenage years without a female role model, relying on the time-stamped notes her mother left in her father’s care for guidance. In the present day, Macy’s father is dead as well. She throws herself into her work and rarely comes up for air, not even to plan her upcoming wedding. Since Macy is still living with her fiance while grappling with her feelings for Elliot, the flashbacks offer steamy moments, tender revelations, and sweetly awkward confessions while Macy makes peace with her past and decides her future.

With frank language and patient plotting, this gangly teen crush grows into a confident adult love affair.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-2801-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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