Readers of Abeel's earlier books may not find much new here, but that may be perfectly fine. Those who haven’t tried her...

WILD GIRLS

Abeel (Conscience Point, 2008, etc.) returns to a favorite subject here, following three women from their heady days at artsy Foxleigh College in the mid-1950s through the next several decades of hopeful and heartbreaking life.

Julia, Audrey, and Brett bond over their desire to follow a different path than the one expected of girls in their time, despite the paucity of role models and opportunities. They mustn't end up like classmate Lyndy Darling, who drops out of school to marry well and have babies. But they do desire romance, partnership, and a modicum of stability, unlike their other classmate Rinko Park, a Yoko Ono doppelgänger who cares nothing for convention of any kind. Stuck somewhere in the middle, the women forge ahead, buffeted by their own youthful decisions but also the classist, sexist world around them. Julia, a beauty with a knack for self-portrait photography, puts her art on hold when she pairs up with Bodie Curtiz—Audrey’s golden-boy half brother—for a marriage that fulfills half her needs beautifully while leaving the other half to molder. Audrey, having closed herself off to romance after a brutal rape, channels her energy into becoming a wildly successful author with a compartmentalized life. Brett, the most obvious choice for an author stand-in, is also the most realistic in that her thoughts and actions are nearly always at odds. Chasing after the Beats in Paris and then escaping to academia, she is her own worst enemy. Abeel’s gimlet-eyed narration is dense and vivid. Enough of the book takes place among the American gentry to qualify as escapist reading, and it comes laced with gleeful, biting commentary. Toward her three protagonists, she is unsparing and compassionate in perfect proportion.

Readers of Abeel's earlier books may not find much new here, but that may be perfectly fine. Those who haven’t tried her yet—women and men of all ages—should give her a try.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-68003-103-4

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Texas Review Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 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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FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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