A relentlessly bleak exposé of human failings with no redemptive glimmer in sight.

READ REVIEW

FALLING TO EARTH

A tornado destroys a Midwestern town, and one family is left unscathed, only to find their troubles just beginning.

It’s a March afternoon, 1925, in the small town of Marah, Ill., too early for tornado season. So, when a giant twister sweeps across the area without warning, it takes a terrible toll of death and destruction. Most families lose at least one member and/or their homes. But the wife, mother and three children of Paul Graves, owner of the local lumberyard, take shelter in his providently built (and still rare in Marah) storm cellar, and Paul himself miraculously survives the storm, as do his business and employees. At first, Paul, wife Mae and mother Lavinia are part of the community rescue and salvage efforts, as well as tireless helpers during the grim aftermath: bodies are laid out on the front porch of their still-intact house, and the lumberyard builds scores of coffins. Despite the fact that the Graves family is humble, unassuming and the opposite of smug, it gradually becomes apparent that everyone else in town resents their good fortune. Even as the town is rebuilding, the Graves children are taunted in school, and Lavinia and Mae are shunned. Mae’s mental health begins to waver. She doesn’t understand why her husband and mother-in-law are resisting her timid suggestion that they move to California to join Paul’s former partner in Graves Lumber, brother John. When his closest friend warns Paul that the townsfolk will boycott his lumber business, he is still reluctant to heed Mae’s advice. By the time Paul finally realizes that he can’t reverse the senseless scapegoating, it is too late: His family’s sheer politeness and unwillingness to confront their detractors or one another will be their undoing. Unfortunately, all the conflict avoidance saps the novel of forward momentum, not to mention that essential ingredient of drama: the struggle against fate.

A relentlessly bleak exposé of human failings with no redemptive glimmer in sight.

Pub Date: March 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-60945-091-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2013

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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