THE SUNKEN CATHEDRAL

An artful novel in stories from the author of A Short History of Women (2009) and Our Kind (2004).

Marie and Simone survived World War II in France and came to New York with American husbands. Elizabeth, Marie’s tenant, is the mother of an adolescent son. The other voices shaping the novel include Margaret, the interim head of the school Elizabeth’s son attends, and Helen, a fellow student in the painting class Simone and Marie take together. There are men’s voices, too—the painting instructor, a policeman, Marie’s son—but their stories figure only to the extent that their lives intersect with those of Walbert’s female protagonists. That this is a novel concerned with the thoughts and experiences of women of a certain age is, all by itself, worthy of note. But Walbert does more here than simply appeal to a demographic that is seldom represented in fiction. She situates the lives of her characters within the context of a changing New York and a changing world, and she also takes some stylistic risks with her storytelling. Marie’s house is in Chelsea, but it’s clear that the neighborhood she settled in as a young bride is just barely connected to the neighborhood Elizabeth navigates. Marie’s home is a time capsule of another New York; the black-and-white TV set with rabbit ears is just about the only thing that separates it from the Gilded Age. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is struggling to negotiate the expectations set by other parents at her son’s progressive—and aggressively 21st-century—school. Throughout, Walbert uses footnotes to move between inner and outer, past and present. This technique is especially effective in depicting Marie’s childhood, a subject that she doesn’t willingly discuss. And all of this is suffused with a mournful air occasioned by climate change. Strange storms haunt this novel, as does the fear that New York—the city now, the city’s history—will soon be underwater.

Elegant and elegiac.

Pub Date: June 9, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4767-9932-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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