Sometimes gripping but scuppered by an unbalanced plot that toggles between dull and outlandish.

WATER IS WIDER

A young girl runs away to find her missing father, and an aging proofreader tries to find a foothold in life following the death of her mother in McKeon’s (A Balm in Gilead, 2014) novel.

Phoebe is 11 years old and lives with her stepmother, Adele, and her younger brother, Bobby. Her father has recently disappeared from the family home without explanation. Adele passes off his disappearance as an “unexpected trip.” When Phoebe finds a postcard from Connecticut that she believes to be from her father, although it’s unsigned and in an unfamiliar script, she begins to suspect foul play. When she tries to extract the truth from an agitated Adele, her stepmother locks her in a closet. Phoebe escapes and sets out for Connecticut alone in hope of finding her dad. Her journey intertwines with the seemingly unrelated story of Sidney, a 51-year-old spinster who is grieving her late mother. Sidney works as a proofreader at a struggling publishing house, Poppy Press. She worries about being laid off as parts of her office building grow eerily empty. One enduring presence is J.T., the creepy Poppy Press maintenance man who has recognized Sidney as a fellow outsider and chosen her as his confidant. As the press slides toward bankruptcy, J.T.’s paranoia intensifies, and his actions become all the more disturbing. As in McKeon’s previous novel, much of the intrigue here is generated by how or if her characters’ lives will intertwine. Phoebe’s story is the more engaging of the two, and the need to discover what happens to this vulnerable young girl who’s hunting for her father alone makes for compelling reading at first. But her time spent on the road is overly protracted, and the most exciting moments involve stealing toast from an unsuspecting couple who are planning to have breakfast outdoors and hiding from a stranger in a church. While Phoebe’s adventure begins with promise but rapidly loses momentum, Sidney’s story is comparatively dull at the offset, dealing with the drudgeries of office life. The author overcompensates for this with a dramatic, wildly implausible denouement. The prose, however, is evocative and descriptively sharp: “[Phoebe] squinted at the sun as it glittered on suddenly emerald lawns and gawked at trees and bushes covered in delicate blooms. She began to stop just to breathe in the fragrant air.” McKeon also succeeds in tantalizing the reader until the novel’s close with the reasons behind Phoebe’s father’s disappearance. But this doesn’t overcome a plot that lacks balance and plausibility; for example, when Adele reports Phoebe’s absence, it seems unlikely that the police would display such indifference toward an 11-year-old going missing, immediately presuming “that her father took her.” McKeon is a talented writer with the ability to hold her audience in suspense, but readers of her debut novel will find this a comparatively less rewarding journey.

Sometimes gripping but scuppered by an unbalanced plot that toggles between dull and outlandish.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9904338-4-2

Page Count: 316

Publisher: White Bird Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2019

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

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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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

A WEEK AT THE SHORE

A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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