An expertly realized novel about the redemptive power of art.



Hospital patients fight for richer lives in Cantwell’s (Rosa's Gift and Other Stories, 2013) latest novel.

Thirty-four-year-old Philip Nason is the recreational director of Riverview Hospital, situated on an island in the middle of New York’s East River. The facility is used as a long-term-care facility for chronically ill patients, many of whom are partially or completely paralyzed. Nason originally took a job there to get a worry-free, steady paycheck that would allow him to pursue his off-hours dream of writing poetry. He’s been on thin ice with the Riverview administration for some time, mainly due to his free-thinking approach to providing his patients with meaningful activities. As the novel opens, several of these patients have just staged a “supper rebellion”—upending their food trays in protest against the hospital’s tasteless fare and indifferent staff. The institution’s administrators know that Nason has read to these patients about Henry David Thoreau and civil disobedience, so they’re certain that he’s the root cause of the unrest. Riverview is a bleak place, a human junkyard offering little to the patients who end up there; the patients even refer to it as “Farewell Island.” When Nason confronts the case of alcoholic quadriplegic Clayton Thomas, he dreams of turning Riverview’s hopelessness into something more fulfilling, for both himself and the patients; specifically, he wants to help Thomas to learn how to paint by holding a brush in his mouth. The spiritually charged artwork that eventually results is revolutionary, but the more conservative elements of Riverview’s administration fight Nason and his program. Cantwell fills his well-structured, compassionate novel with convincing insider knowledge of life inside a long-term-care facility, and its many details feel memorably authentic. He avoids turning his characters into the clichéd, otherworldly innocents that often fill fiction set in hospitals. However, there’s a fair amount of rough language scattered throughout the book (“ ‘Cut the shit, and just tell me what you want,’ Clayton snapped”), and some surprisingly explicit sex scenes. Overall, however, the resulting story is ultimately uplifting, precisely because it’s not idealized.

An expertly realized novel about the redemptive power of art.

Pub Date: Nov. 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-1491746530

Page Count: 356

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2015

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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