A flinty, lyrical, and storm-clouded study of loss.

The myth of Athena inspires a deeply melancholy portrait of a fractured family in the debut novel by Boström Knausgård (Welcome to America, 2019).

“I am born of a father. I split his head,” says Anna, the novel’s young narrator, as if she’d sprung from the head of Zeus. It’s a metaphor, of course: The split head of the girl’s father evokes the schizophrenia that will send him to an institution and her to a foster home. Yet Boström Knausgård brings the metaphor intriguingly close to reality. Though we’re in the author’s native Sweden, Anna has an inherent connection to Greek roots: She obsesses over a map of the Mediterranean, and her prophetic babbling at the church her foster family takes her to turns out not to be speaking in tongues but Greek. Regardless of Anna’s provenance, her life is shot through with a profound sense of longing for her father and a host of failed strategies to connect with him. Church only deepens her sense of distance. The letters he writes her reveal frustratingly little. And channeling her inner Athena feels like a false front. (“I must become stronger. So strong that I won’t be the one who is alone, rather those who avoid me will.”) The somber, flat tone of the narrative (ably maintained by translator Willson-Broyles) gives the reader plenty of room to interpret Anna as mad or misunderstood, and Boström Knausgård’s imagery is piercing (“My scream was like a storm. Like pouring rain. My scream was like a spear. Like a way out”). As she becomes increasingly desperate to escape the institutions that constrict her (churches, schools, hospitals) and reconcile with her father, the latter pages of the narrative become mordant, a touch repetitively. But it’s a moving trip to an emotional bottom.

A flinty, lyrical, and storm-clouded study of loss.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64286-068-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: World Editions

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020


The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992



A tour de force.

In 1974, a troubled Vietnam vet inherits a house from a fallen comrade and moves his family to Alaska.

After years as a prisoner of war, Ernt Allbright returned home to his wife, Cora, and daughter, Leni, a violent, difficult, restless man. The family moved so frequently that 13-year-old Leni went to five schools in four years. But when they move to Alaska, still very wild and sparsely populated, Ernt finds a landscape as raw as he is. As Leni soon realizes, “Everyone up here had two stories: the life before and the life now. If you wanted to pray to a weirdo god or live in a school bus or marry a goose, no one in Alaska was going to say crap to you.” There are many great things about this book—one of them is its constant stream of memorably formulated insights about Alaska. Another key example is delivered by Large Marge, a former prosecutor in Washington, D.C., who now runs the general store for the community of around 30 brave souls who live in Kaneq year-round. As she cautions the Allbrights, “Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next. There’s a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.” Hannah’s (The Nightingale, 2015, etc.) follow-up to her series of blockbuster bestsellers will thrill her fans with its combination of Greek tragedy, Romeo and Juliet–like coming-of-age story, and domestic potboiler. She re-creates in magical detail the lives of Alaska's homesteaders in both of the state's seasons (they really only have two) and is just as specific and authentic in her depiction of the spiritual wounds of post-Vietnam America.

A tour de force.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-312-57723-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

Close Quickview