No blue skies here. Cold-bladed realism that “gets all the little pink muscles moving under [your] skin.” And dialogue to...

CROOKED

A second sizzler about marginalized outcasts follows Luna’s scalding but artful debut Brave New Girl (not reviewed) and falls in line with this publisher’s paperback stable of brilliantly trashy gutter novelists.

Old master James M. Cain would smile to his ear canals at Luna’s opening: “My mother picked me up in Holding and smelled like baby powder and Vaseline lotion when she hugged me.” Hardened but underweight young Melody Booth is paroled from prison after three years. White and seemingly allergic to sunlight, she hasn’t eaten meat in two and a half of those years and tosses her first hamburger in the restroom of a fast-food stop (“My cuticles were white and raw, nails bitten down, skin flaking off my fingertips like paint”). Though she’s a high school graduate, Mel turns down an office job offered by her parole officer and hires on manhandling smelly, sloshy port-a-potties, falls in with bad old buddy Chick Rodriguez, and sucks down six-packs. Living with her mother in Mill Valley, she sorely misses her brother Gary, who’s doing life at San Quentin—but she doesn’t want to see him. Did mother’s heavy abuse lead to her kids’ hard times? Mother’s changed for the better but is still a fake-pearls, lip-gloss airhead with a cleanliness mania. Memories of bad days at Staley pop up and hurt: being held down as a razor cuts the word juera into her arm and later slices fine lines in her vagina. And she gets her rib stove in. Why did she do three and Gary get life? The answer hangs over the novel. A hint: mother’s lover slaps Mel into the garbage; three years later, it’s payback. That crazy Gary. But that’s all, you know, like, cool, right? Sure.

No blue skies here. Cold-bladed realism that “gets all the little pink muscles moving under [your] skin.” And dialogue to die for.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7434-3995-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: MTV/Pocket

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2002

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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