Although neither the plot nor the characters quite jell, Dean (This Human Season, 2007) has a darkly optimistic,...


Brittle, sometimes brutal comedy of sex and marriage shows British and American ex-pats spending some very unhappy years in a very unromanticized South of France.

British pharmaceuticals salesman Richard lives “on the crossroads of rip-you-off-Riviera and rob-you-blind-Provence” with his French wife Valérie and 13-year-old son Maxence, who may or may not have serious psychological problems. Valérie’s parents live next door, mostly on Richard’s largesse. Drawn with few redeeming characteristics, Valérie is not only cold and lazy but seems to dislike Max. Unhappy Richard claims to yearn for an intimacy he can’t find with either Valérie or the string of women he sleeps with while traveling for his job. Valérie and Richard socialize increasingly with their equally unhappily married neighbors, artistic but shallow American Jeff and British Rachel, a devout Christian. Gradually Valérie decides she’s in love with Jeff, and Richard finds himself drawn to Rachel. Just as tensions heat up, Rachel pressures Jeff to travel with her to Africa to save orphans, realizes she has been duped—the “orphans” are not what they seem—and loses her faith. Meanwhile Richard goes to Africa to open a new territory for anti-depressants, has a moral epiphany and decides to quit his sleazy job. When Rachel learns of Valérie and Jeff’s affair, she returns to England with daughter Maud, the one human being for whom Jeff genuinely cares. Richard wants to leave France too, but not without Max; Rachel demands custody, even though the boy hates his mother. Cut off from his family, without a job, Richard slides into a drunken nervous breakdown. Eventually he connects with Rachel, and they begin a long-distance love affair just as Valérie and Jeff’s affair begins to cool. Whether Richard can find happiness remains unclear, but his shiftless yet loving in-laws may point the way.

Although neither the plot nor the characters quite jell, Dean (This Human Season, 2007) has a darkly optimistic, intellectually humanistic sensibility that recalls Iris Murdoch.

Pub Date: July 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-15-101385-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2009

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


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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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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