A worthy addition to the fiction of western exploration pioneered (so to speak) by Vardis Fisher and Frederic Manfred. And...

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THE LAST CANYON

John Wesley Powell’s explorations of the Colorado Territory and Grand Canyon provide the narrative core of Vernon’s richly detailed fifth novel, a historical saga closely akin to his earlier La Salle (1986) and Peter Doyle (1991).

The story begins and ends with Powell’s letters home to his wife Emma, with whom he had previously ventured into the southwest desert, several years after serving in the Union Army, and losing an arm to injuries sustained during the battle of Shiloh. In 1869, he sets out again, leading a party of eight volunteers whose (efficiently distinguished) members include “Wes’s” sturdy brother Walter, scholarly cartographer Oramel Howland, and taciturn, quick-tempered Bill Dunn (who’ll become Powell’s chief antagonist, as hardships and internecine tensions multiply). “If the professor could only study geology, he’d be content to live without food or shelter,” Powell’s men complain. In fact, he’s driven by his scientist’s curiosity about the wild, near-pristine country they travel through: specifically, about “the riddle of rivers cutting through mountains” (which he eventually solves). Vernon juxtaposes the story of Powell’s embattled voyage against that of a tribe of Paiute Indians on a “dangerous hunt” and subsequent trek undertaken to evade their enemies the Navajo and strengthen their own numbers—a plan that puts them on a collision course with the white explorers. The Paiute passages do somewhat dissipate the force of the novel’s primary actions—despite the vivid figures of introspective warrior Toab and his expedient brother Onchok (who sells his children for badly needed rifles), and some beautifully realized scenes in which Paiute religious and cultural practices are effectively dramatized. No matter: the lengthy account of the Powell party’s arduous passage through “the great unknown” (i.e., Grand Canyon) refocuses the reader’s attention, stunningly.

A worthy addition to the fiction of western exploration pioneered (so to speak) by Vardis Fisher and Frederic Manfred. And Vernon’s best yet.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2001

ISBN: 0-618-10940-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2001

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

A WEEK AT THE SHORE

A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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