A highly readable and adeptly crafted addition to the literature of Appalachia.

THIS WILL NEVER STOP

A literary novel unspools a multigenerational saga about West Virginia women.

Harshbarger Mills, West Virginia. Lorraine Rhodes and her siblings were abandoned on a sad Easter by their alcoholic mother, who left them to be raised with little support in their judgmental, religiously conservative, small Appalachian town. Now married with children of her own—whom she is raising purposefully to be suspicious of religion—Lorraine harbors an understandable bitterness toward her mother, Carmen Amber Rhodes, who occasionally visits her in dreams. The answers to all of the questions she has about her mother are found in a letter that Carmen finally writes to Lorraine after a quarter-century’s absence, detailing her own life’s struggles with family, God, and alcohol. “I’ve written you many letters over the years but either crumpled them or X-ed out my thoughts,” pens Carmen. “I’m scared, Lorraine, but the best way to fight fear is with the truth. I’m going to tell you the real reasons I didn’t come back, and I can do this without a drink in sight.” The massive letter has an impact not only on Lorraine, but also on her daughter, Jenna Johnson, who has her own adolescent opinions on the whole situation—and predictably, she sees Lorraine as the villain, not Grandma Carmen. Finally, the matriarch of the family has her say: Lizzie McClure McComas, mother of Carmen, who has been buried in the town cemetery for long enough that her bones are bleached white. From beyond the grave, she takes up the story of the McComas/Rhodes/Johnson women, which began with her birth back in the early 20th century, and connects them all through their bloodlines and a curious family heirloom: a silver bottle that has been buried in the ground for 17 years. Spilman’s (Tight Squeeze, 2017, etc.) textured prose masterfully evokes the hard-knock lives and locales that define these women. It particularly shines in the Carmen section, which is both the longest chapter and the spiritual heart of the tale: “I’d have laughed if I’d been capable of it, but all I did was go where I was directed, dragging a shovel and carrying a trowel. The shovel was necessary because someone had donated four dwarf spruces, and I was the best hole digger. One of the men offered to help, but I declined.” Novels that chart families—and their curses—over the course of multiple generations are nothing new, but the author’s inventive structure manages to give the book a feeling of simultaneity, allowing four generations (one of them deceased) to share the present. It also permits resentments and traumas to fuel the plot rather than mere chronology, which helps dispel the sense of inevitability that so often is found in historical fiction. The ending may land with some readers better than others, but Spilman should be commended for making bold narrative choices. Together, these four portraits of West Virginia women—of different times, classes, and levels of opportunity—illustrate the stresses and expectations of small-town womanhood, both from without the family and from within.

A highly readable and adeptly crafted addition to the literature of Appalachia.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-79605-134-6

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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