A REAL DAUGHTER

A morbidly eerie and artfully crafted psychological thriller.

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A mother loses her infant child, and her grief haunts her attempts to start afresh in this novel.

Claire leaves Vermont and moves to Los Angeles, reinventing herself as a landscape gardener. She becomes romantically involved with a high school history teacher, Jake, but hides her past, neglecting to tell him about her baby Sarah’s mysterious death more than five years ago, or about her marriage that fell apart thereafter. Jake finally tells her about his own living 8-year-old daughter, Mandy, two years older than Sarah would have been, if the latter were still alive. Claire and Jake become closer as a couple, but Mandy’s ungovernably rambunctious behavior, and her father’s bottomless indulgence of it, becomes a sore spot between them. After Claire and Jake get engaged, Claire becomes pregnant, and she spontaneously reveals to Mandy that she once had a child who passed away. Mandy’s response is chilling: “Sarah was a spoiled baby….You hugged her too much….No wonder she died.” However, Mandy keeps the secret to herself, which Claire interprets as a tactical maneuver—a calculated ploy to maintain power over her. Claire also becomes plagued by emotionally wrenching memories of her late daughter, some which reduce her to sobs, and she seems increasingly unable to distinguish between imaginative reveries and lived reality. Then Claire’s vision of her child demands to meet Mandy, and Claire begins to feel that her pregnancy is somehow a betrayal of her lost daughter—a defiling of a womb that rightfully belongs to Sarah. Debut author McKelvey has a gift for conjuring and maintaining a sepulchral atmosphere of expectancy. As the plot progresses, the reader will become gradually and tantalizingly aware that he or she is being led to a dramatic crescendo. The author depicts Claire’s disconnectedness from reality with immersive effectiveness—it becomes hard, even for readers, to distinguish between her melancholic dreams and her dangerous hallucinations. A principal element of suspense fiction is the pace of disclosure, and the author manages this perfectly, effectively doling out enough information to keep the plot intelligible but not so much that it dispels the mounting sense of mystery. For example, Claire’s brother, Roger, is a pediatrician, and he’s still bewildered by his patient Sarah’s death, thinking that “There must have been something I missed.” Then Claire tells readers that she knows precisely why Sarah died—but reservedly leaves it an enigma. At times, Mandy’s character seems painted in overly rough strokes, as she’s not merely a spoiled brat but also cunning and darkly clever: a preteen monster. Also, there’s something vaguely but creepily sexual about the bond between Mandy and Jake, a distasteful aspect that’s emphasized when Mandy joins the newlyweds on their honeymoon. But such hyperbole also helps to amplify the fact that Claire and Jake share a grasping possessiveness about their respective daughters. Indeed, Claire’s territoriality is all the more unsettling because it extends to the dead—and even to her memories of the dead.

A morbidly eerie and artfully crafted psychological thriller.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9972472-5-1

Page Count: 316

Publisher: Savant Books and Publications

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2017

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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