A morbidly eerie and artfully crafted psychological thriller.

A REAL DAUGHTER

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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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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

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A LITTLE LIFE

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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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