An often engaging tale of learning to live again after tragedy that’s wrapped in an offbeat ode to literature and the spirit...


Fowler’s debut novel follows a young woman’s spiritual connection to the late Irish poet W.B. Yeats as she faces tragedy.

Sophie O’Connor is the daughter of an Irishman, Kerry, and an Irish-American woman, Maggie, who instill in her a love of literature from an early age. As a child, she talks to what seems to be an imaginary friend named Willie and comes to have a prodigious recall of Yeats’ poetry. As time goes on, Maggie, a believer in the spiritual realm, comes to think that Sophie is actually speaking to the spirit of Yeats, though Kerry is skeptical. Sophie has an idyllic childhood in Ireland and in the coal country of western Pennsylvania, exploring her spiritual side with her mother and forming a close bond with her funny, caring father. By her 16th year, though, things take a tragic turn: Maggie is killed in a car crash and Kerry is wracked by grief, leaving Sophie home alone. During this time, Sophie is brutally raped by her uncle. As she recovers, she becomes withdrawn and distant, fearful of emotional or physical contact; she also loses her connection with Willie. Only years later, as Sophie continues to heal, does she begin to hear his voice again, and then, shockingly, he appears to her in physical form to reawaken her love of life. Fowler’s work is effectively a love letter to Yeats and literature itself. The prose particularly shines when it focuses on literature’s ability to immortalize and say the unsayable, as when Willie looks at Sophie and sees the “wave and wood and wind and star” in the air around her. Sophie’s healing story arc, though unconventional, is satisfying, though not all the other characters are as fully developed as she is. The narration also excessively explains its version of spiritual mechanics to the reader, which somewhat lessens the impact of Willie’s incarnation.

An often engaging tale of learning to live again after tragedy that’s wrapped in an offbeat ode to literature and the spirit world.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5043-6478-2

Page Count: 248

Publisher: BalboaPress

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2017

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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