Affecting and inventively funny despite its cumbersome length.



An alcoholic confronts a work crisis and the sting of loneliness in this debut novel.

Heald Brown works at the Chicago Regional Census Center in a secretive division called the Census Coverage Measurement, devoted to meticulously gathering and zealously protecting data about the city’s population. One day, he comes into work to learn that 37 pages of the most sensitive, classified information—specifically protected by a regulation called Title 13—has mysteriously gone missing. Deputy Director Elina Flohard declares a state of emergency, intemperately warning that such a security breach could presage the very dissolution of society, and author Ferro humorously captures her hyperbolic alarmism. Soon after, Heald’s immediate boss, manager Gilbert Tabin, inexplicably disappears after a meeting with Flohard, leading some to believe he was shoved down a laundry chute. Meanwhile, Heald grapples with a claustrophobic, solitary existence, which he somewhat numbs with out-of-control alcohol consumption. He also falls madly in love with co-worker Janice Torres, but both his addiction and his inclination toward privacy frustrate hopes of romantic success. Then his grandmother is badly injured in a car accident and subsequently diagnosed with cancer, compelling him to re-examine his life of unfulfilled promise and solipsistic desperation. Ferro’s work is an eclectic mélange of parts—some farcically absurd and others more sober. For example, in one poignant moment, poetically expressed, Heald, while comforting his dying grandmother, wonders about the possibility of an afterlife: “Once she was gone, that would be it, and there would be no report from the other side—no telegraph or wire call from an ocean liner on the other side of world to let the others back at port know it had safely made passage.” However, the plot’s pace is enormously slow, and it often gets sidetracked by narrative detours that unnecessarily add to the book’s page count. Also, the author’s pastiche of styles, while impressive, can be disorienting as it juxtaposes the manically satirical with the quotidian. Still, there are flashes of comic inspiration, and Heald is a deftly drawn protagonist.

Affecting and inventively funny despite its cumbersome length.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-941861-46-2

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Harvard Square Editions

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2017

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...


Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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Above-average formula fiction, making full display of the author’s strong suits: sense of place, compassion for characters...


Female rivalry is again the main preoccupation of Hannah’s latest Pacific Northwest sob saga (Firefly Lane, 2008, etc.).

At Water’s Edge, the family seat overlooking Hood Canal, Vivi Ann, youngest and prettiest of the Grey sisters and a champion horsewoman, has persuaded embittered patriarch Henry to turn the tumbledown ranch into a Western-style equestrian arena. Eldest sister Winona, a respected lawyer in the nearby village of Oyster Shores, hires taciturn ranch hand Dallas Raintree, a half-Native American. Middle sister Aurora, stay-at-home mother of twins, languishes in a dull marriage. Winona, overweight since adolescence, envies Vivi, whose looks get her everything she wants, especially men. Indeed, Winona’s childhood crush Luke recently proposed to Vivi. Despite Aurora’s urging (her principal role is as sisterly referee), Winona won’t tell Vivi she loves Luke. Yearning for Dallas, Vivi stands up Luke to fall into bed with the enigmatic, tattooed cowboy. Winona snitches to Luke: engagement off. Vivi marries Dallas over Henry’s objections. The love-match triumphs, and Dallas, though scarred by child abuse, is an exemplary father to son Noah. One Christmas Eve, the town floozy is raped and murdered. An eyewitness and forensic evidence incriminate Dallas. Winona refuses to represent him, consigning him to the inept services of a public defender. After a guilty verdict, he’s sentenced to life without parole. A decade later, Winona has reached an uneasy truce with Vivi, who’s still pining for Dallas. Noah is a sullen teen, Aurora a brittle but resigned divorcée. Noah learns about the Seattle Innocence Project. Could modern DNA testing methods exonerate Dallas? Will Aunt Winona redeem herself by reopening the case? The outcome, while predictable, is achieved with more suspense and less sentimental histrionics than usual for Hannah.

Above-average formula fiction, making full display of the author’s strong suits: sense of place, compassion for characters and understanding of family dynamics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-36410-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2008

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