A terrific introduction to Serber’s gifts, and hopefully a preview of good things to come.

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SHOUT HER LOVELY NAME

A debut collection of elegant and largely intertwined short stories about mothers and daughters.

The collection starts with Serber’s most startling piece, which inspired the title of the collection. Written in first-person, the story is a stream-of-consciousness dive into a mother’s terrifying worry for her teenage daughter, who is exhibiting signs of an eating disorder. She, who remains unnamed, is at the end of her rope, calling her husband as he prepares for a business trip. “Don’t care. Scream into the phone. Imagine your tinny, bitchy voice leaking around his ear while men holding lattes, women with Coach briefcases, students and grandmas try not to look at his worn face,” Serber writes. With the next story, the author launches a series of interconnected tales about a single mother and her daughter that very nearly make up a novel of their own. In the first, “Ruby Jewel,” we meet a college girl who has returned home to the Gulf Coast to visit her whiskey-soaked father and emotionally distant mother. In the next, “Alone as She Felt All Day,” Ruby finds that the delicious liaisons she’s been enjoying with a boy named Marco have left her pregnant. Marco leaves. The girl, named Nora, grows up and the conflicts between Nora and her mother ebb and flow like the tides, with Serber zeroing in on painful episodes along the way. There’s little sweetness to be had in Serber’s stories, laden with the sharpness of realism, but their emotional depths are memorable.

A terrific introduction to Serber’s gifts, and hopefully a preview of good things to come.

Pub Date: June 26, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-547-63452-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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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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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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