Spencer's novel makes some trenchant observations about love and loss, about growing up and growing apart, but in the end,...

RIVER UNDER THE ROAD

The story of two couples, recounted across 14 years through the lens of a dozen parties.

Parties are often where we reveal ourselves, inadvertently or otherwise—we get drunk, we flirt, we say things we shouldn't have said. But if such a notion is central to this novel (each chapter opens with an invitation, as if to highlight the conceit), too often the narrative meanders, losing sight of its characters, or of their unhappiness, in the mechanics of the social whirl. At the center of the action are Thaddeus, a screenwriter, and his wife, Grace, an artist who drifts away from her art as the pair moves from bohemia into the bourgeoisie. “Their marriage seemed stale, maybe it was dying,” Spencer (Man in the Woods, 2010, etc.) tells us. Or, as Grace murmurs to her husband one evening, regretfully, “Not exactly the life we had in mind.” These dissatisfactions are only exacerbated by the presence of the second couple, especially the husband, Jennings, who is both a local Lothario and a kind of handyman/fixer on Thaddeus and Grace’s Hudson River estate. Money is an issue throughout the novel—who has it and who doesn’t, what one must do to get it, what happens when it goes away. More to the point, however, this is a book about the vicissitudes of love. Thaddeus and Grace, Jennings and his wife, Muriel: they love one another, after a fashion, but in both marriages, love is not enough. Each character is beset by his or her own frustrations, by the difference between what they wanted and what they’ve got. That may be a universal condition, but as the novel progresses, the world it portrays begins to narrow and the relationships fall into predictable lamentations, mostly involving the inability of privilege to console. Such a conflict can be compelling, but the characters here lack a certain necessary self-awareness, leaving their disappointments (with the world, with one another) to register mostly at the level of complaint. “What…is happiness anyhow?” Thaddeus pouts. “It’s so stupid. Even the word happiness sounds sort of ridiculous. I don’t care about happiness. I just want to be with you.”

Spencer's novel makes some trenchant observations about love and loss, about growing up and growing apart, but in the end, it can't quite get out of its own way.

Pub Date: June 27, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-266005-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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