A psychologically acute but long-winded tale of trauma and redemption.



A Utah boy who survives horrific child sexual abuse fails to put it behind him as he matures into a brilliant, caustic, verbose teenager in this debut coming-of-age novel.

Growing up in Salt Lake City in the 1960s and ’70s, Owen Langley’s life is a Dickensian nightmare. The offspring of his mother’s rape by a stranger, the 5-year-old Owen is beaten and starved by his mom and her husband. After they commit suicide, Owen falls into the clutches of a ghoulish foster couple and is kept in the basement and regularly raped by the husband. An intervention and another suicide later, he’s adopted by the kindly James and Jean Crowley. But when James drops dead and Jean enters a mental institution, Owen winds up in the custody of the couple’s housekeeper, Mrs. Windom, who locks him in the basement for two weeks on a shredded wheat–and-water diet. First grade is a further ordeal of bullying and ostracism that’s worsened by Owen’s bookishness and Victorian rhetoric. (How a 6-year-old Utah kid learned to say “I won’t let you soil my parents’ good name” isn’t explored.) The sprawling tale then skips ahead to ninth grade, when Owen’s toffish grandiloquence effloresces. At one point, he tells a school bully: “You have not changed any over the summer, Wayne….Rather like a tedious ostinato, aren’t you? Or a birth defect—tiresome, monotonous, ineradicable.” The high school girls love that talk, and Owen is soon going steady with queen bee Roxanne Solleveld, whose family has its own backstory of molestation, murder, and suicide. Owen’s implausible maturity and thoughtfulness make him a big man on campus whom students and teachers alike turn to for counseling. Alas, his humane acceptance of gay students runs afoul of homophobic bullies, leading to yet more sexual assault and suicide. Walters’ melodrama and his prose style are dominated by Owen’s voice, which energizes the ambitious novel. He’s a complex, magnetic character, and the author skillfully dissects Owen’s inner turmoil as he deploys his arrogant intellect to cover up his insecurities and ward off the emotional connections he fears and craves. Unfortunately, 654 pages of the protagonist’s bombast, know-it-all-ism, and speechifying start to suck the air out of the story—one funeral oration drones on for four pages—especially because his incessant Wilde-an snark lacks Wilde’s wit. The result is a hero whom readers may not care about.

A psychologically acute but long-winded tale of trauma and redemption.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64228-032-6

Page Count: 668

Publisher: Izzard Ink

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2020

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...


Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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