The town is Cullymore, on the Irish border; it was also the setting for his last novel (The Holy City, 2008, etc.). Once...

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THE STRAY SOD COUNTRY

The Irish McCabe uses elements familiar from his previous work for his latest novel, a ghoulish small-town burlesque. 

The town is Cullymore, on the Irish border; it was also the setting for his last novel (The Holy City, 2008, etc.). Once again, there will be violent episodes, fits of madness and sectarian (Catholic/Protestant) tensions. It’s 1958. A scream erupts in the heart of town. Tongues wag. Has the devil struck again? Not to worry; the café owner has had an accident with her new electric mixer, but these are superstitious folks. They are happy enough on the outside, whether it’s the smiley-faced butcher or the genial dentist, who organizes innocent (or are they?) dances for teenagers; underneath it’s a darker story. The feud between Father Gus Hand and the disgraced, half-mad teacher James A. Reilly is out in the open. It dates back to 1940, when the men were on the staff of the same seminary. One day in class, Reilly kissed a male student on the lips and was promptly expelled; he has never forgiven the priest for his ouster. Now he lives in a hovel, oiling his ancient rifle, still plotting his revenge, which will spark the climax. Among an array of cartoonishly drawn characters, they are the most notable, along with the sweetly vulnerable Golly, a Protestant married to the Catholic barber; their mixed marriage has made her the target of her fellow Protestant Blossom, the odious, hoity-toity bank manager’s wife. Peeping out from behind the curtain is the omniscient narrator, a malevolent figure whose tricks force Golly into the loony bin. Toward the end we move into the 1970s, so the narrator can kill off characters for sport. The novel’s less-than-original conclusion is that we are all strangers to one another, a lesson taught by the Stray Sod Country of folklore.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-60819-274-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2010

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

A WEEK AT THE SHORE

A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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