Watson’s powerful characterizations frame large and connected themes: family loyalty, the conflicting capacities of love,...

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AS GOOD AS GONE

Bill Sidey wants someone he knows well to watch his kids while his wife has surgery, and so he looks up a rank old cowboy, Calvin Sidey, who happens to be the father who virtually abandoned him when he was a boy.

Done with school, Calvin signed on as a ranch hand instead of joining the family real estate business in Gladstone, Montana. There, Sidey was "a name that connoted power and influence." Calvin later fought in the trenches of World War I. Then he came home with a French bride and took to the family’s business. After his wife died during a vacation, Calvin went first to the bottle and then back to the cowboy life. Son Bill and daughter Jeanette, not yet adults, were left behind, seeing Calvin rarely. Now in the 1960s, Bill runs the family business, but with his wife, Marjorie, facing serious surgery in far-off Missoula, there’s no one to watch over 17-year-old Ann and her younger brother, Will. Motivation here, as with Calvin’s earlier abandonment, seems amorphous and must be intuited by the reader, but Watson (Let Him Go, 2013, etc.) deepens the story with secondary characters and spare, clear, Hemingway-esque prose. Notable is the Sideys' neighbor, retired teacher Beverly Lodge, who falls in love with Calvin. Then there's Bill's wife, Marjorie. She had a wild teen romance with a cowboy, perhaps the root of her distrust of free-spirited Calvin. Finally, there's Lonnie Black Pipe, Bill’s promising classmate–turned–scarred barroom brawler. Character conflict draws blood when Calvin’s Old West code compels him to intervene when preteen Will becomes entangled with a group of rowdy boys and Ann’s stalked by a violent Gladstone newcomer. The latter confrontation, with Calvin’s "capacity for ferocity," deserves a Clint Eastwood performance.

Watson’s powerful characterizations frame large and connected themes: family loyalty, the conflicting capacities of love, and the tenuous connections between humans.

Pub Date: June 21, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61620-571-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 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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