It’s always a good thing when one wants more instead of less. A promising debut, and a glimpse at a hidden American...

WE SINNERS

Lovely, lyrical debut novel of a family in slowly unfolding crisis.

In a book said to have plenty of elements of roman à clef about it, University of Michigan M.F.A. Pylväinen recounts life in a family of Finnish-American true believers for whom the word “fundamentalist” doesn’t quite do the trick. The Rovaniemi family practices a particularly austere brand of Protestantism, or, as a daughter puts it, “a kind of Lutheranism where everyone is much more hung up on being Lutheran than all the other normal Lutherans.” She adds, for emphasis, “End of story.” But of course it’s not, as her bewildered Chinese-Malayan-American beau learns while trying to comprehend both Laestadianism and Uppu’s odd mom and pop, who have had their own struggles. As the novel opens, another daughter is just beginning to buck at the traces, explaining to another young suitor that she can’t go to the dance with him because—well, just because she can’t, end of story. And again, the story doesn’t end but unspools, ever so unhurriedly, to reveal the complex dynamic of a father who’s wound up way too tight “and now expressed everything, even anger, in disappointment,” though he’s not without his sympathetic aspects; a mother who beams love and support and who trusts her children implicitly; and the certainty the two elders share that the world is going to come and steal their children away, luring them to the big city, where they’ll wear fancy clothes and dance and fornicate. Even so, contemplates Pirjo, the matriarch, “You can lose your faith anywhere.” Considering what life has thrown at them, it’s amazing any of the family remains steadfast in their alienating religion, and some do indeed drift—but not always far and not always along paths that we might expect. Pylväinen can be faulted only for over-compression: her story, beautifully written, is taut to the point of snapping, and it could have used a couple of dozen more pages of breathing room.

It’s always a good thing when one wants more instead of less. A promising debut, and a glimpse at a hidden American subculture that few readers will suspect even exists.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9533-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it...

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THE DUTCH HOUSE

Their mother's disappearance cements an unbreakable connection between a pair of poor-little-rich-kid siblings.

Like The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer or Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach, this is a deeply pleasurable book about a big house and the family that lives in it. Toward the end of World War II, real estate developer and landlord Cyril Conroy surprises his wife, Elna, with the keys to a mansion in the Elkins Park neighborhood of Philadelphia. Elna, who had no idea how much money her husband had amassed and still thought they were poor, is appalled by the luxurious property, which comes fully furnished and complete with imposing portraits of its former owners (Dutch people named VanHoebeek) as well as a servant girl named Fluffy. When her son, Danny, is 3 and daughter, Maeve, is 10, Elna's antipathy for the place sends her on the lam—first occasionally, then permanently. This leaves the children with the household help and their rigid, chilly father, but the difficulties of the first year pale when a stepmother and stepsisters appear on the scene. Then those problems are completely dwarfed by further misfortune. It's Danny who tells the story, and he's a wonderful narrator, stubborn in his positions, devoted to his sister, and quite clear about various errors—like going to medical school when he has no intention of becoming a doctor—while utterly committed to them. "We had made a fetish out of our disappointment," he says at one point, "fallen in love with it." Casually stated but astute observations about human nature are Patchett's (Commonwealth, 2016, etc.) stock in trade, and she again proves herself a master of aging an ensemble cast of characters over many decades. In this story, only the house doesn't change. You will close the book half believing you could drive to Elkins Park and see it.

Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it contains.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-296367-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

A WEEK AT THE SHORE

A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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