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ANIMAL CANDY

A thoughtfully conceived and boldly described drug tale.

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A rebellious dropout rejects normalcy and finds himself immersed in the 1970s drug scene in this novel.

Owens’ story opens with a distraught ninth grader barreling through the corridors of his high school convinced that “Christian Cannibals” are intent on devouring him. The boy is Wilbert Stokes, who his teachers discover is in the midst of a drug overdose. After undergoing court-ordered substance abuse therapy, Wilbert, now 18, finds himself sitting before a psychiatrist explaining that he has no intention of “running with the straight crowd” and that he strives for absolute freedom. Wilbert sets up as a dealer selling PCP out of a filthy, broken-down cottage in the dying railroad town of Hampton, Indiana. The novel is a mournful waltz through the seamy underbelly of ’70s America—one of skid rows and strip clubs. Wilbert’s position is a precarious one as he observes his own deterioration, succinctly described as the “haunted merry-go-round” of addiction. Surrounded by decay, will Wilbert persevere on the deadly path he believes leads to freedom, or will salvation mean turning “straight”? This is an unflinchingly grimy book, containing unpleasant imagery that readers will struggle to forget, from the “weathered whore” seen “smoking a cigarette from a hole in her cancerous neck” to the “scattered trio of feminine napkins whose ‘period’ of usefulness had long expired.” Owens provides an energetic taxonomy of demimonde habitués: “Sexed-up sugar-daddy-seeking hopefuls, scraggly sots, horny hags, and a variety of other swizzled low-brows.” Wild bouts of vivid descriptions are countered with a contrastingly sober narrative that pinpoints the social, economic, and historical forces that shape the characters’ lives: “The former participated in white flight; the latter could not afford the jump to the burgeoning southern suburbs, where white utopia was experiencing a renaissance of sorts.” The result is a multifaceted view of life “on the skids” given a further psychological dimension by the insertion of extracts from Wilbert’s journal: “I kill the capitalist pigs in my mind every day, until the rest of my poor friends rise up to join me, and we slay the beast in flesh.” The author’s prose may turn some readers’ stomachs, but this is a compellingly written, richly textured story that penetrates the heart of ’70s drug culture.

A thoughtfully conceived and boldly described drug tale.

Pub Date: May 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-578-67508-4

Page Count: 570

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

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HOME IS WHERE THE BODIES ARE

Answers are hard to come by in this twisting tale designed to trick and delight.

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Three siblings on very different paths learn that their family home may be haunted by secrets.

Eldest daughter Beth is alone with her fading mother as she takes her final breath and says something about Beth’s long-departed brother and sister, who may not have disappeared forever. Beth is still reeling from the loss of her mother when her estranged siblings show up. Michael, the youngest, hasn’t been home since their father’s disappearance seven years ago. In the meantime, he’s outgrown his siblings, trading his share of the family troubles for a high-paying job in San Jose. Nicole, the middle child, has been overpowered by addiction and prioritized tuning out reality over any sense of responsibility, much to Beth’s disgust. Though their mother’s death marks an ending for the family, it’s also a beginning, as the three siblings realize when they find a disturbing videotape among their parents’ belongings. The video, from 1999, sheds suspicion on their father’s disappearance, linking it to a long-unsolved neighborhood mystery. Was it just a series of unfortunate circumstances that broke the family apart, or does something more sinister underlie the sadness they’ve all found in life? In chapters that rotate among the family’s first-person narratives, the siblings take turns digging up stories and secrets in their search for solace.

Answers are hard to come by in this twisting tale designed to trick and delight.

Pub Date: April 30, 2024

ISBN: 9798212182843

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Blackstone

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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THEN SHE WAS GONE

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

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. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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