A bracing, knotty exploration of abuse and its impact across decades.


A man returns to his hometown to dismantle a barn, a symbol for his confrontation with the broken home he was raised in.

Cole, the hero of Scribner’s fourth novel (The Oregon Experiment, 2011, etc.), fled as far from his upbringing as possible, leaving his native Connecticut for Portland, Oregon. But he’s back in East Granby because his high-end construction business demands quality chestnut wood like the kind used to build a tobacco drying shed back in his hometown. He’s sidestepping family problems in Oregon: an estranged wife, Nikki, and a teenage son, Daniel, who’s courting school expulsion for his defiant freegan attitude. But he’s got family problems back east, too, where his father, Phil, has returned home after a prison stint for murdering Cole’s mother. Ignoring dad is tempting but difficult since he’s displaying symptoms of Alzheimer’s. That’s a lot of domestic drama to carry (not to mention Cole’s run-ins with a former bully), but Scribner mostly handles it with grace and a fine eye for detail around his Connecticut setting; he writes beautifully about the hills and tobacco fields that define the area. The novel's real turf, though, is the bleak emotional territory of abuse, and Scribner writes with brutal intensity about the violence Cole’s father rained down on his family and how that anger has been passed down through Cole and Daniel. Scribner’s prose can be overgrown, and some plotlines feel untenable; the righteously political Daniel registers only a mild protest at working in the tobacco industry when he comes for a change of scenery. But Scribner wisely avoids clichéd father-son teaching moments, instead drilling deeper into ever darker material, arguing that the stories abused children tell themselves about violence are often cover for even worse degradations. The novel ends on a redemptive note, but not before running its leads through an emotional gauntlet.

A bracing, knotty exploration of abuse and its impact across decades.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-52179-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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Hoover is one of the freshest voices in new-adult fiction, and her latest resonates with true emotion, unforgettable...

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Sydney and Ridge make beautiful music together in a love triangle written by Hoover (Losing Hope, 2013, etc.), with a link to a digital soundtrack by American Idol contestant Griffin Peterson. 

Hoover is a master at writing scenes from dual perspectives. While music student Sydney is watching her neighbor Ridge play guitar on his balcony across the courtyard, Ridge is watching Sydney’s boyfriend, Hunter, secretly make out with her best friend on her balcony. The two begin a songwriting partnership that grows into something more once Sydney dumps Hunter and decides to crash with Ridge and his two roommates while she gets back on her feet. She finds out after the fact that Ridge already has a long-distance girlfriend, Maggie—and that he's deaf. Ridge’s deafness doesn’t impede their relationship or their music. In fact, it creates opportunities for sexy nonverbal communication and witty text messages: Ridge tenderly washes off a message he wrote on Sydney’s hand in ink, and when Sydney adds a few too many e’s to the word “squee” in her text, Ridge replies, “If those letters really make up a sound, I am so, so glad I can’t hear it.” While they fight their mutual attraction, their hope that “maybe someday” they can be together playfully comes out in their music. Peterson’s eight original songs flesh out Sydney’s lyrics with a good mix of moody musical styles: “Living a Lie” has the drama of a Coldplay piano ballad, while the chorus of “Maybe Someday” marches to the rhythm of the Lumineers. But Ridge’s lingering feelings for Maggie cause heartache for all three of them. Independent Maggie never complains about Ridge’s friendship with Sydney, and it's hard to even want Ridge to leave Maggie when she reveals her devastating secret. But Ridge can’t hide his feelings for Sydney long—and they face their dilemma with refreshing emotional honesty. 

Hoover is one of the freshest voices in new-adult fiction, and her latest resonates with true emotion, unforgettable characters and just the right amount of sexual tension.

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-5316-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2014

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