WATCHING YOU WITHOUT ME

A thoughtful and intense drama about how insidiously family ties can be exploited.

A woman returns to her childhood home to settle her late mother’s affairs. A household aide is suspiciously eager to assist.

Karen, the narrator of Coady’s sixth novel, has returned from Toronto to her childhood home in Nova Scotia after her mother’s death. In addition to arranging to sell the house, Karen needs to find a place for her developmentally disabled sister, Kelli, and she feels lucky to have a plan already in place: A decent facility has a room ready, and a home aide, Trevor, has been showing up regularly to take Kelli on walks. Kelli and Trevor seem to have a great rapport, but practically from the start Trevor’s demeanor seems manipulative and vaguely threatening: He's overly familiar around the house, making nonregular visits using his key while steering Karen away from sensible decisions regarding Kelli’s care. And Kelli herself soon suffers spells of illness that are hard to explain. That Karen is being gaslit is never in doubt; the novel’s drama comes from Coady’s sensitivity to how Karen, a savvy woman, could be manipulated by a man who isn’t especially bright but knows her emotional weak spots. Coady has a talent for inventing creeps: Her novel The Antagonist (2013) features a half-crazed man who feels his life has been exploited by a novelist. Trevor is similarly unstable, and Coady takes a giddy pleasure in stretching out scenes that expose his capacity for menace while cloaking his intentions. And Kelli, inspired by Coady’s real-life uncle, is a rich character in her own right: Coady is careful not to make her a mere plot device, inhabiting her hard-to-express thoughts and emotions with an acuity that heightens the drama. Karen and Kelli’s unique sisterhood deepens the more Trevor tries to drive a wedge between the two.

A thoughtful and intense drama about how insidiously family ties can be exploited.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-65843-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

THE FURY

More style than substance.

Michaelides takes a literary turn in his latest novel, employing an unreliable narrator, the structure of classical drama, and a self-conscious eye to dismantling the locked-room mystery.

The novel starts off with a murder, and with seven people trapped on an isolated Greek island lashed by a "wild, unpredictable Greek wind." The narrator, soon established as Elliot Chase, then zooms out to address the reader directly, introducing the players—most importantly movie star Lana Farrar. We meet her husband, Jason Miller, her son, Leo, and her friend Kate Crosby, a theater actress. We learn about her rise to fame and her older first husband, Otto Krantz, a Hollywood producer. We learn about Kate’s possibly stalling career and Leo’s plan to apply to acting schools against his mother’s wishes. We learn about Jason’s obsession with guns. And in fragments and shards, we learn about Elliot: his painful childhood; his May–September relationship with an older female writer, now dead; his passion for the theater, where he learned “to change everything about [himself]” to fit in. Though he isn't present in every scene, he conveys each piece of the story leading up to the murder as if he were an omniscient narrator, capable of accessing every character's interior perspective. When he gets to the climax, there is, indeed, a shooting. There is, indeed, a motive. And there is, of course, a twist. The atmosphere of the novel, set mostly on this wild Greek island, echoes strongly the classical tragedies of Greece. The characters are types. The emotions are operatic. And the tragedy, of course, leads us to question the idea of fate. Michaelides seems also to be dipping into the world of Edgar Allan Poe, offering an unreliable narrator who feels more like a literary exercise. As an exploration of genre, it’s really quite fascinating. As a thriller, it’s not particularly surprising.

More style than substance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2024

ISBN: 9781250758989

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2023

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