An immersive murder mystery wrapped in an emotionally astute look at the burden of a town’s moral history.

ALL FALL DOWN

The sudden death of a prominent businessman with a long list of enemies raises suspicions in this last installment of a trilogy. 

Dickie Sutcliff is a powerful figure in Furnass, an economically addled mill town in western Pennsylvania memorably described by Snodgrass (The Building, 2018, etc.). Dickie owns a successful real estate company working on a multimillion-dollar development that could hold the key to the area’s revitalization, but he’s found dead in the office—apparently he fell and hit his head on his desk, a fatal blow. Bryce Orr, the reverend who delivers Dickie’s eulogy and an old classmate of his, finds it peculiar that no one seems all that interested in investigating the entrepreneur’s death, despite his reputation as a ruthless businessman who left a trail of resentments in his wake. Bryce performs his own independent probe—a strange decision for a man of God who wasn’t at all fond of Dickie—and finds no shortage of suspects. Dickie’s mistress, Pamela DiCello, is convinced he was murdered: “There was a dent in his skull, an open wound, the edge of the desk punctured his skull. Do you have any idea how much force it would take to create a wound like that?” Tinker, Dickie’s wife, was recently served divorce papers, and had plenty to lose financially. In addition, Julian Lyle, a business associate of the dead man, had been taken advantage of by Dickie, forced into a deal that was ruinous for him. And Dickie’s shiftless brother, Harry Todd, returned to town after an extended absence and openly pined to claim his ownership of the company.   Snodgrass creates an atmospherically suffocating image of a town plagued by secrets and recriminations, a repository of family histories rarely spoken of but never forgotten. Dickie, despite already being dead at the commencement of the novel, looms large over the story—he’s a deftly drawn hybrid of community patriarch and gangster. Dickie’s daughter, Jennifer, almost takes it for granted that a man like her father would eventually be murdered: “The price of being who he was. What all he did. His position in town.” The author dives deeply into the town’s collective repression of its own darkness: Despite evidence of foul play, an autopsy is never ordered and the chief of police seems strenuously devoted to ensuring a thorough investigation is never done. In addition, Snodgrass’ writing is unpretentious but poetically evocative, an ambitious attempt to combine a realistic portrayal of a gritty working-class town with literary style. While it’s the third installment of a trilogy, the book is self-sufficient enough that it can be read on its own. But the audience’s experience will surely be deepened by consuming the preceding volumes first. The author’s tendency is to lean toward an excess of complications, and the story’s conclusion feels anticlimactic, partially because it’s merely one of so many alternative possibilities. Nevertheless, this is a fitting end to a dramatically gripping series. 

An immersive murder mystery wrapped in an emotionally astute look at the burden of a town’s moral history. 

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9997249-8-9

Page Count: 274

Publisher: Calling Crow Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2018

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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

FLY AWAY

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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