Part page-turner and part aesthetic treatise, Rock’s (Spells, 2017, etc.) latest is, like the currents of the Great Lakes,...

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THE NIGHT SWIMMERS

“Part of my pleasure of swimming in open water, especially at night, is that it makes me afraid.”

In the summer of 1994, our unnamed narrator, a 26-year-old aspiring writer, meets Mrs. Abel, the mysterious young widow with whom he voyages by night through the swells and currents of Lake Michigan. To the narrator, and to the summer community on Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula, Mrs. Abel is an enigma: She’d been married to Mr. Abel, whose name she wears like a keepsake throughout the novel, for less than a month before his death, and the cabin that she’s inherited is so sparsely decorated that everything in it—her husband’s now-scentless clothes, a wooden bird carved by a friend, a painting by Charles E. Burchfield of a forest fire marching toward a cabin—seems to possess, in the narrator’s eyes, the significance of an artifact, of objects kept because they serve as mementos of missing people or missing times. By swimming together at night, Mrs. Abel and the narrator build a secret relationship out of their shared passion—but the relationship ends prematurely when one night near summer’s close the swimmers arrive upon a strange shoal far from shore and, while exploring it, Mrs. Abel somehow disappears. Twenty-ish years later, the narrator—now a successful novelist who lives with his wife and two daughters in Oregon—is reconstructing that summer, trying to get closer to who he was, and who Mrs. Abel was, and what happened that night on the water. To do so, he pours over the artifacts left behind by that time—photographs and artworks frequent the text, as do letters to and from his ex-girlfriend. He floats in a sensory deprivation tank, studying “the past, the future, [and] the hypothetical…hidden beneath the surface” of his thoughts. He consults Rilke, Burchfield, and Chekhov, among many others. And, most significantly, he writes—thus creating out of life’s artifacts a new artifact, this book, which serves as keepsake for both Mrs. Abel and the narrator’s youth, referring eyes back upon them across the years.

Part page-turner and part aesthetic treatise, Rock’s (Spells, 2017, etc.) latest is, like the currents of the Great Lakes, subtle and haunted, deeply complex and “quietly…sinister”; his readers, like his swimmers, ought to know “that the currents of the subsurface are likely to be moving.”

Pub Date: March 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64129-000-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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