An absorbing tale imparted with tenderness and compassion.

Devoted brothers, living a world apart, are enmeshed in a mystery.

Making a poised, graceful literary debut, Fitzpatrick follows the aspirations and anguish of Ilya, a 15-year-old Russian exchange student who arrives in the U.S. burdened by worry about his older brother. After confessing to the murders of three young women, Vladimir is in prison, awaiting a harsh sentence; but Ilya is certain of his innocence, and although he is thousands of miles away, he sets out to prove it. Moving between the small town of Leffie, Louisiana, where Ilya is housed with the Masons, a pious, middle-class host family, and Berlozhniki, a former mining town where he shared a tiny apartment with his mother, grandmother, and brother, Fitzpatrick underscores the contrast between Western excess and Russian impoverishment. On the road to Leffie, Ilya whizzes past grocery stores—“the shelves were completely full,” he notices with amazement—video stores, pizza places, gas stations, and a huge building shaped like a pyramid with two glass walls: the evangelical Star Pilgrim Church, where the Masons worship every Sunday. Their house is sprawling, with foyers, a den, multiple bathrooms and bedrooms, and a heated outdoor pool that, Ilya is shocked to see, can be illuminated for night swimming. Of the Masons’ three daughters, only the sardonic Sadie, the eldest, seems to understand Ilya; as he soon discovers, she, like him, harbors secrets. He should not have been surprised, he reflects, “but his own secrets had made him myopic, made him forget that the world, even America, was a tangle of lives, all twisted and bent.” Ilya confides in Sadie, sharing his worries: Vladimir’s life, he reveals, is inexorably tangled. Unlike Ilya, who excelled academically, Vladimir struggled; he became a petty thief and drug addict, never keeping his promises that he would turn himself around. Beset with guilt, hoping desperately to save Vladimir, Ilya searches the internet for clues to the murders, and, with Sadie’s help, he discovers the corruption and betrayal that landed Vladimir in prison.

An absorbing tale imparted with tenderness and compassion.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-55873-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019


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

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