Sharp knows how to create wonderfully quirky characters and set them against each other in bizarre situations. But this...

I LOVED YOU ALL

This time out, Sharp gets as preachy as her pro-life antagonist, in a compelling but decidedly one-sided exploration of the abortion issue.

The Daigles are a family of fiery Louisiana Catholics transplanted to the bleak prison town of Stein in upstate New York. In the summer of 1977, it becomes clear that widowed mother Marguerite is losing her battle against the bottle. The more Marguerite drinks, the more her older daughter, teenaged Mahalia, gravitates toward Isabel Flood, neighborhood busybody and humorless antiabortion zealot. Without especially liking Isabel or her ideas, Marguerite nevertheless lets her exert ever-greater influence over Mahalia's life. In fact, when Marguerite goes off with boyfriend David Slattery to dry out, she leaves both Mahalia and pesky eight-year-old Penny in Isabel's care. In one hilarious scene after another, Isabel drags the sisters along on her daily rounds to convert the town's weaker-willed denizens. Little Penny fights her every step of the way, singing dirty versions of "Barnacle Bill The Sailor" at the most inappropriate moments. When Marguerite finally returns home, sober and married, she must fight Isabel for Mahalia's affection. Assisting in this effort is her salty but big-hearted brother, F.X. Molineau. Matters come to a head when Isabel and her fellow right-to-lifers discover that the high school is teaching a poem on abortion called "The Mother." Not only do they picket the school and pass our gruesome pictures of aborted fetuses, they break into the library and pour pig's blood on the free-speech display.

Sharp knows how to create wonderfully quirky characters and set them against each other in bizarre situations. But this latest effort shares the central flaw of its predecessor (Crows Over a Wheatfield, 1996): she just can't resist pouring on the ideology.

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2000

ISBN: 0-7868-6266-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2000

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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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Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it...

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THE DUTCH HOUSE

Their mother's disappearance cements an unbreakable connection between a pair of poor-little-rich-kid siblings.

Like The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer or Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach, this is a deeply pleasurable book about a big house and the family that lives in it. Toward the end of World War II, real estate developer and landlord Cyril Conroy surprises his wife, Elna, with the keys to a mansion in the Elkins Park neighborhood of Philadelphia. Elna, who had no idea how much money her husband had amassed and still thought they were poor, is appalled by the luxurious property, which comes fully furnished and complete with imposing portraits of its former owners (Dutch people named VanHoebeek) as well as a servant girl named Fluffy. When her son, Danny, is 3 and daughter, Maeve, is 10, Elna's antipathy for the place sends her on the lam—first occasionally, then permanently. This leaves the children with the household help and their rigid, chilly father, but the difficulties of the first year pale when a stepmother and stepsisters appear on the scene. Then those problems are completely dwarfed by further misfortune. It's Danny who tells the story, and he's a wonderful narrator, stubborn in his positions, devoted to his sister, and quite clear about various errors—like going to medical school when he has no intention of becoming a doctor—while utterly committed to them. "We had made a fetish out of our disappointment," he says at one point, "fallen in love with it." Casually stated but astute observations about human nature are Patchett's (Commonwealth, 2016, etc.) stock in trade, and she again proves herself a master of aging an ensemble cast of characters over many decades. In this story, only the house doesn't change. You will close the book half believing you could drive to Elkins Park and see it.

Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it contains.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-296367-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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