GONE SOUTH

If, in Boy's Life (1991), McCammon took a giant step away from horror (Mine, 1990, etc.) and toward his own potent brand of southern gothic, here he takes a daring leap—with a captivating but calculatedly eccentric fable of an outlaw Vietnam vet who learns about the power of redemption. The vet is Dan Lambert, 41, a hard-luck Louisiana carpenter slowly dying from cancer (Agent Orange). Dan's story starts out in swift if familiar thriller-fashion as, through a series of tragic overreactions, he shoots dead the bank officer who's ordered his truck repossessed, and flees. In fact, this opening strongly echoes that of David Morrell's First Blood, which introduced fellow-vet Rambo—but where Rambo was chased by a stalwart sheriff, Dan is soon hounded by two markedly bizarre characters: Flint Murtaugh, a bounty hunter whose secret weapon is the Derringer held by his Siamese-twin brother, Clint, whose arm and head extend from Flint's torso; and Flint's new sidekick, Pelvis Eisley, a drop-dead Elvis (circa 1977) impersonator. And after he makes final contact with his estranged wife and son, Dan finds himself traveling with yet another misfit, Arden—whose beautiful face is marred by a hideous port-wine stain and who's searching for the ``Bright Girl,'' a legendary faith healer whose touch will erase her scar. Improbable events pile up as hunters and hunted race into the deep bayou, where Flint/Clint and Pelvis run afoul of drug dealers and where Dan, touched by his hunters' flawed humanity, joins forces with a Cajun swamp rat to fight to save their lives—and then accompanies Arden to her transfiguring meeting with Bright Girl. No subtlety but lots of surprises, not the least of which is McCammon's ability to humanize deeply even the most absurd of characters. With its careening plot, jackhammer suspense, and very Dean Koontz-like upbeat moral gloss, then—a real crowd-pleaser.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-671-74306-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1992

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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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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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