THE RED HOUSE

A familiar premise inspires surprising and deeply moving results, fulfilling the British novelist’s considerable promise.

Haddon became a literary sensation with his debut (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, 2003), a critical and commercial success which relied for effect on a tricky narrative perspective—a protagonist who was not only unreliable, but autistic. He then succumbed to a severe case of sophomore jinx with A Spot of Bother (2006), a novel that suggested that the debut was the only gimmick that Haddon had in him. What surprises about his third novel is that it’s not only his best, it’s his most conventional, at least in terms of the plot. Following the death of their mother, a brother and sister, who hadn’t maintained much contact and had felt some estrangement, bring their families together for a weeks’ vacation. With a spirit that evokes A Midsummer Night’s Dream (to which one of the characters compares this idyll), the setup ensures that there will be revelations, twists and shifts in the family dynamic. Angela has three children whom she loves (all detailed richly and empathically), a husband she tolerates, and the memory of a stillborn daughter whom she still mourns (18 years later). Richard, a wealthier doctor who has arranged this family reunion with his sister, has a younger second wife, a career crisis, and a stepdaughter who is as mean-spirited as she is attractive. Where similar novels often devote whole chapters to the perspective of a character, this one shifts perspective with every paragraph, sustaining suspense (sometimes as to whose mind the paragraph reflects) while enriching the developing relationships among people who barely know each other, in a place where “the normal rules had been temporarily suspended.” There will be flirting across generations and gender, sexual orientations discovered and revealed, and deep secrets unearthed. “What strangers we are to ourselves,” muses one character, “changed in the twinkling of an eye.” Yet the plot feels organic rather than contrived, the characters convincing throughout, the tone compassionate and the writing wise.

A novel to savor.

Pub Date: June 19, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-53577-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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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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