MOHAWK

Soapy first novel about life, love, passion, and perversion in a decaying mill-town in upstate New York (Mohawk by name). Two cousins, Diana Wood and Anne Younger, are each burdened by the repressiveness of life with their aging, neurotic, and manipulative mothers, and they're also unhappy in love. On double dates way back in high school, things should have miraculously sorted themselves out, but didn't: the beautiful Anne really loves Dan (and vice versa), but Dan marries the good, plain cousin Diana instead (whom he only sort of loves); and the terribly intelligent but doomed-to-disappointment Anne errs by marrying Dallas, an irresponsible and at best half-charming town rake, drinker, and auto mechanic. With these marriages in place, life goes on: Anne and Dallas (after having a son) get divorced; Dan becomes a wheelchair victim and muddles on with Diana (along with her hypochondriacal, money-draining mother); only much later, at book's end, does Diana herself sadly but conveniently die, with the result that Anne and Dan can at last move beyond furtive consummations in front of the late-night fireplace and move away together to Phoenix, Arizona. Before such bittersweet bliss, though, much else happens, and deep, dark secrets emerge, most having to do with a Snopes-like family by name of Grouse. The town's speechless retard, nicknamed Wild Bill (who once upon a time loved Anne from afar and stood mooning under her window), turns out to have been fist-clobbered into retardation by his sleazy father, Rory Grouse, co-worker in the leather mills with Anne's father. There's character-blackmail afoot, it turns out, having to do with the years-long theft of company leather skins by Grouse, and with Anne's father's principled refusal to take part. Anne's draft-dodging and hippy son, in the later Vietnam years, will half-inadvertently reveal the whole mystery—along with a welter of bullets, two dead Grouse brothers (one the emotionally crippled town cop), the dead (and still speechless) Wild Bill, and the frosting-on-the-cake info that Rory Grouse has helped himself to his own granddaughter's sexual favors for quite a while. Workmanlike writing for lovers of the well-atmosphered small-town saga with not a cliche unturned. For those idle hours between daytime soaps.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1986

ISBN: 0679753826

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Vintage/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1986

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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