A sharply intelligent, warmhearted embrace of human imperfection—the kind of book that invites a second reading.

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THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING

Despite various mysteries and suspicious deaths in this story about a Montana woman uncovering secrets past and present, Harrison wisely concentrates less on plot twists than on exploring the trickiness of memory where love and family are concerned.

Over the course of a week in the summer of 2002, 42-year-old Polly, a married mother of two and sometime editor who helps her husband run his restaurant in Livingston, Montana, finds herself coping with several crises at once. Since a recent bicycle accident, Polly has struggled with memory problems, remembering too much as well as too little. As she prepares for a large family reunion to celebrate her great aunt Maude’s 90th birthday, disjointed images of the past haunt her, and arguments with her mother, Jane—a highly successful historian who's written about "the eternal nature of stories"—about whether some of Polly’s memories may be false, have exacerbated her fear of losing her mind. Meanwhile, her children’s babysitter, Ariel, is missing and presumed drowned after a kayaking mishap. The tragedy involves Polly and the tight-knit Livingston community first in a search for Ariel, then in mourning, then in uncomfortable suspicions surrounding Ariel’s kayaking companion and apparent boyfriend. Polly’s emotional turmoil is the center of the novel as she fixates not only on Ariel’s death, but also on what exactly happened in 1968, "when her world blew up.” Another layer of understanding comes in chapters in which the 1968 events, extremes of joy and tragedy, are seen through Polly’s limited 7-year-old perspective. The result is a kaleidoscope of facts and recollections that reveal emotional as well as factual truth only in tantalizing fragments. Some mysteries remain unsolved; others Polly solves, sometimes to her dismay. Through small moments, particularly shared meals and drinks, the reader becomes intimately involved in Polly’s inner life and falls in love with a vividly portrayed Montana devoid of Western clichés.

A sharply intelligent, warmhearted embrace of human imperfection—the kind of book that invites a second reading.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64009-234-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A knowing, loving evocation of people trying to survive with their personalities and traditions intact.

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THE NIGHT WATCHMAN

In this unhurried, kaleidoscopic story, the efforts of Native Americans to save their lands from being taken away by the U.S. government in the early 1950s come intimately, vividly to life.

Erdrich’s grandfather Patrick Gourneau was part of the first generation born on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. As the chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in the mid-1950s, he had to use all the political savvy he could muster to dissuade Utah Sen. Arthur V. Watkins (whom Erdrich calls a “pompous racist” in her afterword) from reneging on long-held treaties between Native Americans and the federal government. Erdrich's grandfather is the inspiration for her novel’s protagonist, Thomas Wazhushk, the night watchman of the title. He gets his last name from the muskrat, "the lowly, hardworking, water-loving rodent," and Thomas is a hard worker himself: In between his rounds at a local factory, at first uncertain he can really help his tribe, he organizes its members and writes letters to politicians, "these official men with their satisfied soft faces," opposing Watkins' efforts at "terminating" their reservation. Erdrich reveals Thomas' character at night when he's alone; still reliable and self-sacrificing, he becomes more human, like the night he locks himself out of the factory, almost freezes to death, and encounters a vision of beings, "filmy and brightly indistinct," descending from the stars, including Jesus Christ, who "looked just like the others." Patrice Paranteau is Thomas' niece, and she’s saddled with a raging alcoholic father and financial responsibility for her mother and brother. Her sister, Vera, deserts the reservation for Minneapolis; in the novel’s most suspenseful episode, Patrice boldly leaves home for the first time to find her sister, although all signs point to a bad outcome for Vera. Patrice grows up quickly as she navigates the city’s underbelly. Although the stakes for the residents of Turtle Mountain will be apocalyptic if their tribe is terminated, the novel is more an affectionate sketchbook of the personalities living at Turtle Mountain than a tightly plotted arc that moves from initial desperation to political triumph. Thomas’ boyhood friend Roderick returns as a ghost who troubles Thomas in his night rounds, for example; Patrice sleeps close to a bear and is vastly changed; two young men battle for Patrice’s heart.

A knowing, loving evocation of people trying to survive with their personalities and traditions intact.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-267118-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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