Lovely writing but airless and unsatisfying in the end.

THE MYSTERIES

An intense story about two young girls growing up in St. Louis during an unsettled time.

Miggy (short for Margaret Ann) Brenneman is a temperamental, unruly 7-year-old, an only child who always seems to be courting danger. Her best friend—and complete opposite—is Ellen Gallagher, who attends Catholic school and is unfailingly polite and restrained. Ellen has a new baby brother, Louie. It’s 1973: Nixon is president, the Vietnam War is winding down, and the economy is in recession. St. Louis itself has seen better days. Miggy’s father, Julian, has inherited a failing hardware store, and he and his wife, Jean, a ballet teacher, both think they were meant for better things. Meantime, Ellen’s mother, Celeste, spends too much time sleeping, ostensibly because of postpartum depression. But there’s reason to believe her malaise runs deeper. Ellen’s stepfather, William, is a good man, somewhat baffled by his wife. The narrative unfolds slowly at first; then there’s a terrible accident, which swiftly upends everything. Author Silver is probing grief and guilt here as well as the mysteries of fate and character: On two separate occasions, Jean and Julian look at Miggy, “their demanding, often unappeasable child,” and ask, “Who are you?” Sentence by sentence, Silver’s writing is graceful and observant. Yet the novel doesn’t add up to much. The author portrays the accident as a turning point. Yet the grown-ups were struggling before the catastrophe, which only seems to push them further along the road they were already traveling. Miggy and Ellen are by far the freshest, liveliest characters, but the author keeps shifting focus away from them. Some parts of the novel seem truncated—Jean and Julian’s courtship, for example—while others feel too expansive.

Lovely writing but airless and unsatisfying in the end.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63557-644-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

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THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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