An enticing story that derives energy from its unflinching point of view.


Black Lick Creek and the City of Broken People

A girl and two boys yearn for revenge against those who’ve hurt them in McHenry’s (Derby, 2009) dark coming-of-age drama.

Carla Schwartz, Lyle White, and Dean Barrett are much more than friends. They were all born on the same day in 1966 in Columbus, Ohio, and they’re only 10 years old when they map out their future lives: Lyle and Dean, they think, will both marry Carla, they’ll all have babies, and they’ll love one another forever. Each has harrowing events in his or her past: Carla was born prematurely to a 13-year-old mother; Lyle watched a schoolmate get stabbed to death in his presence; and Dean’s family has a history of violence. Carla, now living with her repulsive aunt and uncle, shares a horrible secret with Lyle and Dean, prompting the friends to take action to ensure that someone never touches Carla again. After the young people are separated—Carla goes to live with other relatives in Portsmouth, Ohio, and the boys stay back in Columbus—Lyle and Dean go on to earn cash by boosting cars, with the goal of someday heading to Mexico with Carla. Meanwhile, Carla finds herself in another precarious spot, as her threatening cousin, Louis, is soon to be released from prison. The boys aim to rescue Carla and keep Louis away from her; soon, their plans include lethal retribution against others who’ve wronged them. McHenry’s blunt, humorless novel is unabatingly bleak as it tackles such issues as child abuse and mental illness. The three protagonists are sympathetic in their tenacity, and they remain so even as they descend into violence; their potential victims, meanwhile, are unquestionably loathsome. The author nevertheless offers glimmers of hope, primarily with a curious, mystical plot turn: the teens are apparently guided by “the Universe”; more specifically, the North Star guides Dean; the Sun, Carla; and the Moon, Lyle. McHenry wisely leaves this point ambiguous, however, keeping alive the possibility that the celestial “watchers” actually just exist in someone’s head, much like Carla’s imaginary friend, Suzie. A downbeat conclusion is inevitable—indeed, a fortuneteller predicts a dismal ending for at least one character—but the somber tale remains provocative all the way to the last page.

An enticing story that derives energy from its unflinching point of view.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5369-4159-3

Page Count: 472

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.


Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.


Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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