This harrowing tale of a husband and father-to-be surrounded by violence remains both gloomy and enthralling.

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COVENTRY

A novel focuses on a North Carolina prison guard and his increasingly bleak life inside and outside penitentiary walls. 

Calvin Gaddy works at Coventry Prison, just like his now-retired father, Mac. As Cal’s wife, Rachel, is pregnant with their first child, he plans to take the sergeant’s exam to boost his income. But Rachel is worried that Cal’s regular pot smoking will lead to trouble if he gets a drug test at Coventry. Still, he’s quietly coping with working at the prison, where some guards, like Mac of yesteryear, are violent with inmates. Jesse Thrake, one officer, is certain that prisoner and alleged witch doctor Tarl “Pitch” Benefit has been “witching” him. Sure enough, Thrake falls ill with vomiting and much worse until the day he inexplicably vanishes. Cal subsequently believes Pitch is cursing him as well, which only intensifies his perpetual concern over his pregnant wife. At the same time, complications at home and work exacerbate Cal’s quandary. The prison captain, for one, is having an affair with his secretary, which ultimately prompts a confrontation between the couple and one of their spouses. Meanwhile, Cal thinks his father is going crazy, as Mac, among other things, is seeing convicts’ faces in the dirt. Cal struggles to balance his life with Rachel and his punishing job. But he may not be prepared once tragedy at Coventry strikes, a tragedy that requires either the cool detachment of a prison guard or the compassion of a family man.  Bathanti’s (Brothers Like These, 2017, etc.) grim tale is steeped in religious allegory. Though this facet is sometimes too superficial, it often precipitates indelible imagery. For example, Cal’s dead mother, Elizabeth, was a churchgoer—unlike his prison-guard father. At one point, Cal envisions sitting with his mom after Sunday worship while on a table between them is Elizabeth’s Bible and Mac’s pistol. Similarly, the story aptly examines the fine line separating guards from inmates, as the former sometimes display brutality against men whose crimes are all but forgotten. Cal is incessantly conflicted between his roles as prison guard and devoted husband. Accordingly, parallelisms ensue: As Rachel carries new life, an imminent execution at Coventry assures another will end, and the story even equates an infant’s birth with a jailbreak. But in addition to the hard-hitting drama, the tale has shades of a thriller, dropping in a few surprises, such as more than one shocking death. There are moments of surrealism, too, particularly regarding Pitch and what he may or may not be capable of. Cal has a few unsettling dreams, but the narrative perspective from Pitch, while riveting, is relatively ambiguous. This plot thread results in a denouement that’s likewise open to interpretation. Bathanti recounts his story in a lyrical but appropriately somber prose: “Dead inmates…had been weighted, in the chain-gang days, with granite and dumped in the sump where their bones still ranged like white brittle fish waiting for time to turn them back into free men.”

This harrowing tale of a husband and father-to-be surrounded by violence remains both gloomy and enthralling. 

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-60489-222-2

Page Count: 261

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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