A skillful and very promising debut novel in the Peter Straub/Stephen King mode.


The Ropewalk

A debut paranormal thriller set in the 1970s, about a strange presence in an apartment building in an isolated New England coastal town.

Egan Drummond, one of the main characters in Knauf’s atmospheric fiction, has recently taken a job at a boarding school in the distant, coastal town of Bowford, Maine. He lives in a long, rambling apartment building in a renovated 18th-century ropewalk, where he hopes to use his spare time to work on a long, demanding book that’s been preoccupying him for years. His efforts to sink into solitary isolation are complicated, however, by the building’s only other tenants: his fellow teacher, Margaret Gillespie; and her young daughter, Sonya. But Margaret tells Egan that there’s another tenant in the building—someone who mysteriously walks the halls at night. In very little time, he joins Margaret’s informal quest to unravel the riddle of the unknown person—or thing—stalking the ropewalk. Knauf takes these simple plot ingredients, mixes them with ample amounts of Northeastern Native American lore from Egan’s germinating book, and crafts a story that’s very often tense and involving. His characters are largely believable, although Egan’s first-person perspective frequently leans toward the type of purple prose of Gothic fiction: “Perhaps on some level I sensed it would be a reassurance, or even a sort of passive boast, that I had so far escaped the yawning death in whose gullet the thundering echo of the water was louder than ever.” Knauf renders the steadily developing relationship between Egan and Margaret much more subtly and energetically than he does the Dean Koontz-style quasi-supernatural elements. As a result, readers may find themselves wishing that this were a more straightforward relationship novel, although the paranormal aspects gain in strength and eloquence as the novel progresses. The author also delivers necessary exposition regarding Native American mythology and history so smoothly that readers that may not even realize how much they’re learning along the way.

A skillful and very promising debut novel in the Peter Straub/Stephen King mode.

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4620-5273-8

Page Count: 500

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2016

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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