A novel that carefully presents an unusual situation, offering plenty of poignant moments along the way.

THE SECRET STRAND

In Eklund’s debut novel, a middle-aged cancer patient discovers a startling secret about her family while searching for information about her past.

After enduring an abusive childhood and, later, her own divorce, Jenna Waring pursued a successful career in social work; raised her son, Drew; and got happily married to her high school sweetheart. Now, as she approaches 50, her life is upended by a devastating diagnosis: stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As she begins the process of arranging treatment, telling the news to her family, and coming to terms with her condition, she’s buoyed by a new source of happiness—a previously unknown 3-year-old granddaughter named Violet. Jenna made the discovery through a DNA-sequencing service that listed them as close relatives. After corresponding with Violet’s mother, Maddy Kansel, Jenna learns that Violet was conceived using an anonymous sperm donor, who turns out to be Jenna’s son. Jenna has tremendous love for her son, but because of Drew’s reserved nature and difficulty expressing emotion, their relationship is somewhat delicate. Out of fear about Maddy’s motives, Drew forbids his mother from having any further contact with Violet. Jenna must now determine whether she can have a relationship with her granddaughter without driving her son away while knowing that her time left with her family is limited. Over the course of the novel, hints of magical realism, in the form of prophetic dreams, lend the story a mysterious quality and draw focus to considerations of the afterlife. Eklund’s treatment of the moral, social, and legal implications of DNA-sharing technology is also balanced and thought-provoking. Even more striking is the presentation of Jenna’s condition; her progression of emotions, from dismay to resolve and much in between, is relatable, and she retains an admirable humor and warmth of character throughout. The supporting cast, which includes Jenna’s husband, Sam; her best friend, Eric; and her beloved sister, Mary Grace, is fairly well conceived. However, the most stirring scenes are those between Jenna and Violet, as the elder woman rediscovers some of herself in her young granddaughter.

A novel that carefully presents an unusual situation, offering plenty of poignant moments along the way.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-983581-34-2

Page Count: 391

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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

FIREFLY LANE

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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