An engrossing social tapestry, filled with quiet spiritual dramas.



Subtle moral conundrums stir this luminous saga of genteel Southern society in the mid-20th century.

Traywick’s loose, episodic tale follows a sprawling cast of characters from World War II through the mid-1960s as their lives are changed or upended by the inscrutable workings of fate. At one focus is the family of Thomas Strikestraw, an Episcopal minister in a small North Carolina town who likes to confound his flock with mildly heretical sermons. His son, a naval officer, disappears under circumstances that implicate him in a German spy ring. At the other focal point is the Ashfield clan, aristocrats of South Carolina’s Low Country, along with their African-American companions in the Gadsden family, whose daughter, Lilia Belle, is raped by a congressman. Around these poles orbit neighbors, friends, small-town eccentrics and several isolated subplots that gradually weave themselves together, including a man who wakes up with amnesia aboard a U-boat just as it’s captured by the British and a World War I veteran who, having survived one calamity after another against all odds, decides he’s destined to never die. The novel treats its characters’ travails with serene equanimity. Estrangements, crimes, miscarriages and deaths violent or tranquil are folded calmly into the narrative flow, their consequences surfacing only much later in musings on religion and ethics or in surreptitious acts of generosity and honor. Traywick’s richly textured prose creates a fictive world that’s almost Faulknerian in its density, revealing to the reader a burnished, elegiac view of upper-crust Southern life on the cusp of the civil rights movement—a gracious world of plantations, glamorous balls, weddings and shooting parties. For now, racial tensions are muted and salved by humane courtliness. Traywick’s vision is limited—almost cloistered—and so meditative that it seems detached at times, even though it sheds a captivating glow.

An engrossing social tapestry, filled with quiet spiritual dramas.

Pub Date: March 23, 2009

ISBN: 978-1440126390

Page Count: 312

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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A young man has been stabbed to death on a houseboat...that much is clear.

Hawkins' third novel, after her smash debut with The Girl on the Train (2015) and a weak follow-up with Into the Water (2017), gets off to a confusing start. A series of vignettes introduce numerous characters—Irene, Deidre, Laura, Miriam, Daniel (dead), Carla, Theo, Angela (dead)—all of whom live or lived in a very small geographical area and have overlapping connections and reasons to be furious at each other. We can all agree that the main question is who killed Daniel, the 23-year-old on the houseboat, but it is soon revealed that his estranged mother had died just a few weeks earlier—a drunk who probably fell, but maybe was pushed, down the stairs—and his cousin also fell to his death some years back. Untimely demise runs in the family. The highlight of these goings-on is Laura, a tiny but ferocious young woman who was seen running from Daniel's boat with blood on her mouth and clothes the last night he was alive. Physically and mentally disabled by an accident in her childhood, Laura is so used to being accused and wronged (and actually she is quite the sticky fingers) that she's not surprised when she's hauled in for Daniel's murder, though she's pretty sure she didn't do it. The secondary crimes and subplots include abduction, sexual assault, hit-and-run, petty larceny, plagiarism, bar brawling, breaking and entering, incest, and criminal negligence, and on top of all this there's a novel within a novel that mirrors events recalled in flashback by one of the characters. When Irene reads it, she's infuriated by "all the to-ing and fro-ing, all that jumping around in the timeline....Just start at the beginning, for god's sake. Why couldn't people just tell a story straight any longer, start to finish?" Hmmmmm.


Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1123-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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