A brooding family saga with emotional depth.

UNOPENED LETTERS FROM DEAD MEN

Regan tells the story of three men attempting to move beyond the death of their family’s matriarch in this debut novel.

In the Midwestern town of Richland around 1968, high school basketball star Billy Hennessey hasn’t recovered since his mother, Janet, died in a car accident nearly a year ago. He finds it harder to relate to his friends, and he recently lost his girlfriend. He isn’t the only one reeling; the loss has made his overbearing father, Big Al, angrier and more prone to violence: “Her voice, sometimes the only reasonable one in the house, was gone.” Big Al blames his other son, Al Jr., for her death, as she was on the way to pick him up in the car. Al Jr. was sent to Vietnam not long afterward and returned with a severe injury. He’s been avoiding his father and brother ever since, suffering from PTSD and feeling unsure about his place in the world. Despite their conflicts, the men still wish to remain a family, although they’ll have to find a way to communicate with one another without Janet’s mediation. If they can understand one another’s pasts—and survive the dangers of the present—they might be able to build a real future. Regan’s detailed prose, which shifts its perspective between the three Hennessey men, strikes a deliberative tone throughout the novel: “Music blared out from an outside speaker he couldn’t remember being there before, a lively song about a brown-eyed girl that reminded him of Janet, overwhelming him until he was momentarily oblivious to everything.” The narrative moves at a slow pace, but as it does, it effectively delves into the psyches of all three of its major characters, exposing problems that go much deeper than the loss of a wife or mother—including problems of the world at large. The result is a novel that captures not only the fractures of family relationships, but also those of a small community caught at a key moment of cultural transformation.

A brooding family saga with emotional depth.

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-945630-83-5

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Creators Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2019

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

FLY AWAY

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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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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