A brace of strong stories, and the novella's a fine, suspenseful contribution to the thriving genre of Appalachian mayhem.

IN THE VALLEY

Rash's latest is a collection of 10 stories anchored by a novella featuring the ruthless Serena Pemberton of his best-known novel, Serena (2008), as she returns to the U.S. and resumes her reign of terror. Though Serena has received the lion's share of attention, the short story has always been Rash's best genre. Several pieces collected here—mostly set in western North Carolina from the Civil War to the present—center on revenge that wants to see itself as righteous. Rash is expert at revealing the sword of vengeance's double edge—how honed it is, how it cuts whomever wields it. In the excellent "Flight," for example, Stacy, a wounded, justice-minded young park ranger, determines that she'll have the better of a local who keeps tauntingly poaching trout. Another standout is "The Belt," about an octogenarian Civil War veteran and his talisman, the lucky brass buckle that saved him in battle. His family has struggled mightily—that buckle's luck has never seemed transferable—but old Jubal hopes the luck might extend, in one last moment of crisis, to his namesake grandson, a toddler. Perhaps best of all is "L'homme Blessé," about a recently widowed art teacher summoned to a deep-country cabin where an old man, psychologically wrecked after World War II, lived out his days sheltered by his own art—a near-perfect re-creation of the drawings inside a French cave the shattered soldier had visited. But the title novella makes for the centerpiece. Unrepentant lumber queen Serena has returned home, where she needs to accomplish the impossible: clear-cut a last mountaintop forest in just days. To do so—with the help of her conscienceless enforcer, Galloway, and his terrifying, spooky mother—she must bribe, cajole, intimidate, murder, perhaps even bend the rules of time, but there's little Serena can't do. Sure, now and again Rash tries to channel Cormac McCarthy and fails; a couple stories seem slight; and so on. But those are quibbles, not disfiguring flaws. A brace of strong stories, and the novella's a fine, suspenseful contribution to the thriving genre of Appalachian mayhem.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54429-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

THE SUMMER PLACE

When a family convenes at their Cape Cod summer home for a wedding, old secrets threaten to ruin everything.

Sarah Danhauser is shocked when her beloved stepdaughter announces her engagement to her boyfriend, Gabe. After all, Ruby’s only 22, and Sarah suspects that their relationship was fast-tracked because of the time they spent together in quarantine during the early days of the pandemic. Sarah’s mother, Veronica, is thrilled, mostly because she longs to have the entire family together for one last celebration before she puts their Cape Cod summer house on the market. But getting to Ruby and Gabe’s wedding might prove more difficult than anyone thought. Sarah can’t figure out why her husband, Eli, has been so distant and distracted ever since Ruby moved home to Park Slope (bringing Gabe with her), and she's afraid he may be having an affair. Veronica is afraid that a long-ago dalliance might come back to bite her. Ruby isn’t sure how to process the conflicting feelings she’s having about her upcoming nuptials. And Sam, Sarah’s twin brother, is a recent widower who’s dealing with some pretty big romantic confusion. As the entire extended family, along with Gabe’s relatives, converges on the summer house, secrets become impossible to keep, and it quickly becomes clear that this might not be the perfect gathering Veronica was envisioning. If they make it to the wedding, will their family survive the aftermath? Weiner creates a story with all the misunderstandings and miscommunications of a screwball comedy or a Shakespeare play (think A Midsummer Night’s Dream). But the surprising, over-the-top actions of the characters are grounded by a realistic and moving look at grief and ambition (particularly for Sarah and Veronica, both of whom give up demanding creative careers early on). At times the flashbacks can slow down the story, but even when the characters are lying, cheating, and hiding from each other, they still seem like a real and loving family.

An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3357-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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A curious fetishization of outsiders, outlaws, and the down-and-out.

THE RAVAGED

This debut novel from Walking Dead actor Reedus follows three thematically connected yet narratively unrelated people as they journey to find themselves.

Hunter, a heavily tatted Iraq War vet and self-proclaimed gearhead, attacks his boss at the bike shop after catching him kicking a dog. “Hunter was old school,” the narrator says, rough-hewn but with strong moral fiber and a heart of gold. After learning his father died in a “mysterious house fire” in California, Hunter hops on his Buell S1 motorcycle alongside his buddies Nugget and Itch for a cross-country haul to execute the will. Meanwhile, a wealthy 65-year-old executive named Jack is mugged while traveling aimlessly through South America, neither the first nor the last of his hardships. Jack abandoned his cushy, bloodless office lifestyle after his dying mother told him to “run and never look back,” words he continuously labors to unpack. Finally, Anne, an abused teenage girl in Tennessee, steals her father’s savings and .38 revolver and runs away from home, clobbering her brother upside the head with a cast-iron skillet when he tries to stop her. She connects with her friend Trot, and they join a community of train-hoppers. Co-written by Bill, the story reads like a pastiche of Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the latter of which is name-dropped as “great” by multiple characters. Though occasionally hitting some beautiful imagery of the American heartland, Reedus falls victim to implausible dialogue—“Fabiola, you are reading me like a stock report,” Jack says—and overcooked language: “flesh the color of a high-dollar medium-roast coffee bean.” Frequently wordy summaries do little to develop the thinly sketched characters; we know nearly as much about them on Page 25 as on Page 250.

A curious fetishization of outsiders, outlaws, and the down-and-out.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-09-416680-3

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Blackstone

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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