SALVAGE THE BONES

An evocative novel of a family torn apart by grief, hardship, misunderstanding and, soon, the biggest storm any of them has ever seen.

Set over a dozen days while awaiting the arrival of Hurricane Katrina, and then dealing with its consequences, Ward’s (Where the Line Bleeds, 2008) tale is superficially a simple one: Young Esch, barely a teenager, is pregnant. She is so young, in fact, that her brothers can scare her with a Hansel and Gretel story set in the Mississippi bayou where she lives, yet old enough to understand that the puppies that are gushing forth from the family dog are more than a metaphor. Esch’s task is simple, too: She has to disguise the pregnancy from her widowed father, a task that is easier than it might sound, since her father is constantly self-medicated (“Outside the window, Daddy jabbed at the belly of the house with his can of beer”) and, much of the time, seems unaware that his children ought to be depending on him. But they don’t; Esch and her three brothers are marvels of self-sufficiency, and as the vast storm looms on the horizon, building from tropical depression to category 5 monster, they occupy themselves figuring out what kind of canned meats they need to lay in and how many jugs of water have to be hauled from the store. The bayou has its share of terrors of other kinds, and so do the matters of life and death that children ought to be spared; suffice it to say that there’s plenty of blood, and no small amount of vomit, whether owing to morning sickness or alcohol poisoning. (When Esch admonishes her father for drinking while taking antibiotics, he replies, “Beer ain’t nothing...Just like a cold drink.”) Naturally, in a situation where the children are the adults and vice versa, something has to give—and it does, straight in the maw of Katrina. Yet the fury of the storm yields a kind of redemption, a scenario that could dissolve into mawkishness, but that Ward pulls off without a false note. A superbly realized work of fiction that, while Southern to the bone, transcends its region to become universal.      

 

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-60819-522-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2011

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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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Another artistic triumph, and surefire bestseller, for this fearless writer.

A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS

This Afghan-American author follows his debut (The Kite Runner, 2003) with a fine risk-taking novel about two victimized but courageous Afghan women.

Mariam is a bastard. Her mother was a housekeeper for a rich businessman in Herat, Afghanistan, until he impregnated and banished her. Mariam’s childhood ended abruptly when her mother hanged herself. Her father then married off the 15-year-old to Rasheed, a 40ish shoemaker in Kabul, hundreds of miles away. Rasheed is a deeply conventional man who insists that Mariam wear a burqa, though many women are going uncovered (it’s 1974). Mariam lives in fear of him, especially after numerous miscarriages. In 1987, the story switches to a neighbor, nine-year-old Laila, her playmate Tariq and her parents. It’s the eighth year of Soviet occupation—bad for the nation, but good for women, who are granted unprecedented freedoms. Kabul’s true suffering begins in 1992. The Soviets have gone, and rival warlords are tearing the city apart. Before he leaves for Pakistan, Tariq and Laila make love; soon after, her parents are killed by a rocket. The two storylines merge when Rasheed and Mariam shelter the solitary Laila. Rasheed has his own agenda; the 14-year-old will become his second wife, over Mariam’s objections, and give him an heir, but to his disgust Laila has a daughter, Aziza; in time, he’ll realize Tariq is the father. The heart of the novel is the gradual bonding between the girl-mother and the much older woman. Rasheed grows increasingly hostile, even frenzied, after an escape by the women is foiled. Relief comes when Laila gives birth to a boy, but it’s short-lived. The Taliban are in control; women must stay home; Rasheed loses his business; they have no food; Aziza is sent to an orphanage. The dramatic final section includes a murder and an execution. Despite all the pain and heartbreak, the novel is never depressing; Hosseini barrels through each grim development unflinchingly, seeking illumination.

Another artistic triumph, and surefire bestseller, for this fearless writer.

Pub Date: May 22, 2007

ISBN: 1-59448-950-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2007

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