Episodic and often surreal, with dark, complicated psychological undercurrents.

THE CHILL

First English-language publication of a 1984 tale of knowledge gained and innocence lost in 1920s Tuscany, by rarely translated Viareggio Prize winner Bilenchi (1909–89).

A metaphorical chill begins to encroach on the 16-year-old narrator’s awareness with the death of his grandfather, a benevolent figure writ large on a young mind. Not long before, the old man had taken his grandson to an archaeological site where the discovery of a purse of Roman coins left a lasting impression of both history and impermanence. “Awareness of the transient is what gives value to man’s life,” declared grandfather, and this theme tints the narrator’s ongoing reflections on his emotionally turbulent experiences. The grandfather’s obsession with the Longobards who once invaded their region of Italy, the ruins that punctuate the landscape, seen from climbs up Monte Luca with an eccentric math teacher, the ancient fortresses and threshing floors, all contribute to the sense of a volcanic past seething beneath the idyllic surface. The narrator fears that his father will react in anger to rumors bandied about his mother, fears retribution for ratting out a friend for despicable treatment of girls and, when he himself is accused of wanting to touch the bosom of a man’s wife, fears that this minor transgression will diminish him in the eyes of his mother and the community. The darkness of the characters stands in stark contrast to the pastoral landscape: Adolescents hatch plots beneath the surface of a sunflower field, young ladies are sent to live with distant relatives for their dalliances with married men, or go to prison for botched abortions. When his friend spills another’s blood, the narrator is both wounded and infected with the impulse to violence. In this narrative of a transformation, we are left wondering whether the chill of emotional exile is externally imposed, or a product of the narrator’s own volition.

Episodic and often surreal, with dark, complicated psychological undercurrents.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-933372-90-7

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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