An accomplished meditation on character and tragedy, disquietingly drawn from real life.

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Not at Peace With this Unfolding

Inspired by family lore, this first novel traces the unraveling of a 1930s Southern farming family after a fateful fire.

In 1938, a man stands near the remains of a rural home and considers the trouble wrought there. The novel then shifts to 1930 to meet farmer Yancey Riggs, serving a life sentence in a Georgia prison. In a narrative that jumps back and forth in time, readers learn that though financially strapped Riggs was cleared of arson for the fire that destroyed his home—after which he fled to California, and his wife, Eleanor, received insurance money—his former worker/tenant eventually helped convict Riggs of murder, revealing his and Riggs’ plan to perform arson. On top of that, the burned body found at the fire is that of a missing hitchhiker. The financial ruin caused by this event forces Eleanor to tell her imprisoned husband that she’s going to nursing school and she must put their two children in children’s homes until she can provide for them. This news causes a physical reaction in Riggs, who puts final plans in motion. A brief coda offers key details about what actually happened during the night that changed Riggs’ life. As Aten notes at the end of her novel, she’s drawn on family history for her fiction debut as she crafts a stylistically impressive imagining of a pivotal event in her family’s history. Given its rather musing structure, the novel can at times be repetitive—characters share what happened, but accounts of trial testimony cover the same facts—and sketchy; why, for example, is Riggs both despairing and hungry for spiritual connection? His relationships with Eleanor and the former worker remain rather shadowy, too. While readers may wish for a deeper understanding of the somewhat true story, its unsettling nature certainly leaves an impression.

An accomplished meditation on character and tragedy, disquietingly drawn from real life.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2013

ISBN: 978-1612961743

Page Count: 244

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2013

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Cheerfully engaging.

WHAT ALICE FORGOT

From Australian Moriarty (The Last Anniversary, 2006, etc.), domestic escapism about a woman whose temporary amnesia makes her re-examine what really matters to her.

Alice wakes from what she thinks is a dream, assuming she is a recently married 29-year-old expecting her first child. Actually she is 39, the mother of three and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband Nick. She’s fallen off her exercise bike, and the resulting bump on her head has not only erased her memory of the last 10 years but has also taken her psychologically back to a younger, more easygoing self at odds with the woman she gathers she has become. While Alice-at-29 is loving and playful if lacking ambition or self-confidence, Alice-at-39 is a highly efficient if too tightly wound supermom. She is also thin and rich since Nick now heads the company where she remembers him struggling in an entry-level position. Alice-at-29 cannot conceive that she and Nick would no longer be rapturously in love or that she and her adored older sister Elisabeth could be estranged, and she is shocked that her shy mother has married Nick’s bumptious father and taken up salsa dancing. She neither remembers nor recognizes her three children, each given a distinct if slightly too cute personality. Nor does she know what to make of the perfectly nice boyfriend Alice-at-39 has acquired. As memory gradually returns, Alice-at-29 initially misinterprets the scattered images and flashes of emotion, especially those concerning Gina, a woman who evidently caused the rift with Nick. Alice-at-29 assumes Gina was Nick’s mistress, only to discover that Gina was her best friend. Gina died in a freak car accident and in her honor, Alice-at-39 has organized mothers from the kids’ school to bake the largest lemon meringue pie on record. But Alice-at-29 senses that Gina may not have been a completely positive influence. Moriarty handles the two Alice consciousnesses with finesse and also delves into infertility issues through Elizabeth’s diary.

Cheerfully engaging.

Pub Date: June 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15718-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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