While there’s a hint of psychic ability and the echoes of both Norse and Danish mythologies, most of the beautifully written...

THIS RIVER AWAKENS

Published for the first time in the U.S., a bleak bildungsroman from 1997 that’s quite a departure from the author’s subsequent success in epic fantasy (Forge of Darkness, 2012, etc.).

This depressing little slice of life is set in 1971 in Middlecross, a rural community outside an unnamed Canadian city. The town’s unhappy denizens include a drunk chasing his own demons; his abused, cowed wife; his rebellious 13-year-old daughter, Jennifer, who’s rejected a musical gift in favor of taking and pushing drugs; a widowed mink farmer with PTSD; and the groundskeeper of the local yacht club, who’s slowly going blind. Their downward slide heads rapidly toward greater tragedy when 12-year-old Owen, a tough who’s learned to hide how smart he is, arrives in town, falls in like with Jennifer and makes a frenemy of a local boy. Erikson’s prose is lovely, and he certainly knows his way around the landscape of madness and hallucination. But even that prose and the faint hope of redemption at the story’s close can’t lift the unrelenting grimness of the book, nor compensate for the near absence of a plot. Apparently, Owen and his friends’ discovery of a body is meant to be significant, but it just doesn’t seem as crucial as the author means it to be. If this were a King novel (which it resembles in some respects), there’d at least be a supernatural evil lurking in the woods, but those expecting magical doings from the author best known for the sorcery, gods and battles of The Malazan Book of the Fallen series are bound to be disappointed.

While there’s a hint of psychic ability and the echoes of both Norse and Danish mythologies, most of the beautifully written book is remorselessly concerned with very real troubles.

Pub Date: July 9, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7653-3500-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2013

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it...

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THE DUTCH HOUSE

Their mother's disappearance cements an unbreakable connection between a pair of poor-little-rich-kid siblings.

Like The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer or Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach, this is a deeply pleasurable book about a big house and the family that lives in it. Toward the end of World War II, real estate developer and landlord Cyril Conroy surprises his wife, Elna, with the keys to a mansion in the Elkins Park neighborhood of Philadelphia. Elna, who had no idea how much money her husband had amassed and still thought they were poor, is appalled by the luxurious property, which comes fully furnished and complete with imposing portraits of its former owners (Dutch people named VanHoebeek) as well as a servant girl named Fluffy. When her son, Danny, is 3 and daughter, Maeve, is 10, Elna's antipathy for the place sends her on the lam—first occasionally, then permanently. This leaves the children with the household help and their rigid, chilly father, but the difficulties of the first year pale when a stepmother and stepsisters appear on the scene. Then those problems are completely dwarfed by further misfortune. It's Danny who tells the story, and he's a wonderful narrator, stubborn in his positions, devoted to his sister, and quite clear about various errors—like going to medical school when he has no intention of becoming a doctor—while utterly committed to them. "We had made a fetish out of our disappointment," he says at one point, "fallen in love with it." Casually stated but astute observations about human nature are Patchett's (Commonwealth, 2016, etc.) stock in trade, and she again proves herself a master of aging an ensemble cast of characters over many decades. In this story, only the house doesn't change. You will close the book half believing you could drive to Elkins Park and see it.

Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it contains.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-296367-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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