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THE BLACK SNOW

Lynch evokes so many shades of guilt, pride, innocence, righteousness, and punishment that the book might help found a...

Life turns brutally cruel for a farming family of three in 1940s Ireland in this sad, haunting novel from a writer with a gift for language and character.

“It was the beginning of darkness” are the opening words, a telling phrase that also tells the time of day when Barnabas Kane and his hired hand, Matthew Peoples, rush from their fields at the signs of a fire. The building housing 43 cows is ablaze; Matthew would never have entered without the hand of Barnabas pushing him. So begins to swirl a maelstrom of unrelenting misfortune for the family Kane, the name echoing the Bible’s first murderer. The family has scant capital and no insurance coming because Barnabas canceled it in a prideful moment. Seeking help among the community, he encounters suspicion that he had a hand in Matthew’s death as well as the perverse rejection of anyone not born in and unmoved from the area (Barnabas is local but spent some years in New York before returning). Having done something sinful, Billy Kane, 14, fears he may have indirectly caused the fire to be set. Whether it was arson and who struck the match provide one thread of suspense. The other arises, as it can in the book of Job, from wondering what in God’s name the devil will come up with next. Even Eskra Kane’s bees are victims of slaughtering wasps that then assail her body and unhinge her mind. An accidental death also propelled Lynch’s first novel (Red Sky in Morning, 2013, etc.), a blunter retribution tale that calls to mind the stark cruelty of Cormac McCarthy. With his second novel, Lynch has a Seamus Heaney ear for the sights and sounds of rural life, making his prose thick and jagged, sometimes ponderous and often evocative.

Lynch evokes so many shades of guilt, pride, innocence, righteousness, and punishment that the book might help found a religion or maybe restore one’s faith in a deity that could make a fine writer with one hand even if he unmade the Kanes with the other.

Pub Date: May 12, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-37641-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet...

Four Chicago sisters anchor a sharp, sly family story of feminine guile and guilt.

Newcomer Lombardo brews all seven deadly sins into a fun and brimming tale of an unapologetically bougie couple and their unruly daughters. In the opening scene, Liza Sorenson, daughter No. 3, flirts with a groomsman at her sister’s wedding. “There’s four of you?” he asked. “What’s that like?” Her retort: “It’s a vast hormonal hellscape. A marathon of instability and hair products.” Thus begins a story bristling with a particular kind of female intel. When Wendy, the oldest, sets her sights on a mate, she “made sure she left her mark throughout his house—soy milk in the fridge, box of tampons under the sink, surreptitious spritzes of her Bulgari musk on the sheets.” Turbulent Wendy is the novel’s best character, exuding a delectable bratty-ness. The parents—Marilyn, all pluck and busy optimism, and David, a genial family doctor—strike their offspring as impossibly happy. Lombardo levels this vision by interspersing chapters of the Sorenson parents’ early lean times with chapters about their daughters’ wobbly forays into adulthood. The central story unfurls over a single event-choked year, begun by Wendy, who unlatches a closed adoption and springs on her family the boy her stuffy married sister, Violet, gave away 15 years earlier. (The sisters improbably kept David and Marilyn clueless with a phony study-abroad scheme.) Into this churn, Lombardo adds cancer, infidelity, a heart attack, another unplanned pregnancy, a stillbirth, and an office crush for David. Meanwhile, youngest daughter Grace perpetrates a whopper, and “every day the lie was growing like mold, furring her judgment.” The writing here is silky, if occasionally overwrought. Still, the deft touches—a neighborhood fundraiser for a Little Free Library, a Twilight character as erotic touchstone—delight. The class calibrations are divine even as the utter apolitical whiteness of the Sorenson world becomes hard to fathom.

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet another pleasurable tendril of sisterly malice uncurls.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54425-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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WE WERE THE LUCKY ONES

Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

Hunter’s debut novel tracks the experiences of her family members during the Holocaust.

Sol and Nechuma Kurc, wealthy, cultured Jews in Radom, Poland, are successful shop owners; they and their grown children live a comfortable lifestyle. But that lifestyle is no protection against the onslaught of the Holocaust, which eventually scatters the members of the Kurc family among several continents. Genek, the oldest son, is exiled with his wife to a Siberian gulag. Halina, youngest of all the children, works to protect her family alongside her resistance-fighter husband. Addy, middle child, a composer and engineer before the war breaks out, leaves Europe on one of the last passenger ships, ending up thousands of miles away. Then, too, there are Mila and Felicia, Jakob and Bella, each with their own share of struggles—pain endured, horrors witnessed. Hunter conducted extensive research after learning that her grandfather (Addy in the book) survived the Holocaust. The research shows: her novel is thorough and precise in its details. It’s less precise in its language, however, which frequently relies on cliché. “You’ll get only one shot at this,” Halina thinks, enacting a plan to save her husband. “Don’t botch it.” Later, Genek, confronting a routine bit of paperwork, must decide whether or not to hide his Jewishness. “That form is a deal breaker,” he tells himself. “It’s life and death.” And: “They are low, it seems, on good fortune. And something tells him they’ll need it.” Worse than these stale phrases, though, are the moments when Hunter’s writing is entirely inadequate for the subject matter at hand. Genek, describing the gulag, calls the nearest town “a total shitscape.” This is a low point for Hunter’s writing; elsewhere in the novel, it’s stronger. Still, the characters remain flat and unknowable, while the novel itself is predictable. At this point, more than half a century’s worth of fiction and film has been inspired by the Holocaust—a weighty and imposing tradition. Hunter, it seems, hasn’t been able to break free from her dependence on it.

Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-56308-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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