This is dangerously fertile ground for stereotypes and clichés, both of which Donohoe largely avoids in a sympathetic tale...

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ASHES OF FIERY WEATHER

Four generations of women tied to Irish-American firefighters in Brooklyn move through this sprawling debut as it renders a family and community held together by the threat of sudden loss and the burdens of new lives.

From the death and diaspora sparked by Ireland’s 1845 famine to the hundreds of firefighters killed on 9/11, Donohoe tells the story of seven women linked to the Keegan-O’Reilly clan in as many large sections. The cast includes about 20 main characters, and while a prefatory family tree helps, confusion can arise. The big chunks aren’t in chronological order, and time shifts often within them under small-font subheads that are easily overlooked. The men are generally at the firehouse, working a second job, or in a bar. That leaves the central seven women and a narrative thread of personal or family crises, small and large, unspooling episodically like a rosary moving bead by bead through praying fingers. The major theme that sustains many loosely connected moments is that of missing persons. To take one example, before adopting a child, Delia consults with her Jewish friend Nathaniel, whose parents were forced to leave a sickly child behind in Poland before fleeing the Nazis. Nathaniel will spend most of his life searching for this lost brother. Delia will adopt Eileen, whose unwed mother in conservative 1950s Ireland must give her up, and Eileen will spend years wondering about her birth mother. A line also runs from Delia’s son, Sean, to another girl curious about the unwed mother in liberal 1990s Brooklyn who agreed to have her baby adopted. The theme culminates of course with 9/11, and Donohoe brings a fresh eye to the catastrophe as it batters her characters and elevates her generally unspectacular prose.

This is dangerously fertile ground for stereotypes and clichés, both of which Donohoe largely avoids in a sympathetic tale full of well-shaped vignettes.

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-544-46405-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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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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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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