Part gothic novel, part adventure story, but primarily a meditation on surmounting misfortunes that may lie beyond an...

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Dead parents haunt Shreve’s 16th novel (You Are the Love of My Life, 2012, etc.).

In 2007, George Washington University professor Georgianna Grove still grapples with the mysterious tragedy that orphaned her as a small child. In 1941, when Georgianna was 4, her father, William, a Jewish immigrant from Lithuania, went to prison for murdering her mother on a canoe trip to the Wisconsin summer camp he ran. Four years later, William died in prison, leaving Georgianna to face a lonely childhood with unapproachable, anti-Semitic maternal grandparents. In reaction, Georgianna made the concept of "home" central to her research as an anthropologist and has continually welcomed strangers into the house where she raised her own three children. They’d become fatherless themselves at ages 4, 2, and still-in-the-womb when Georgianna’s husband died in Vietnam. On her 70th birthday, Georgianna receives a letter from the only other person from the 1941 canoe trip who's still alive. At the time, Roosevelt McCrary was an 11-year-old child who had been hired, along with his mother, to work at the camp despite being black. As an adult, Roosevelt became a part owner of the camp and has retired there. Hoping he has information to exonerate William, Georgianna decides to revisit the camp and nearby murder site for the first time. She drags along her family—grown children Venus, Rosie, and Nicolas, whose work on Barack Obama’s campaign hovers in the background; Rosie’s 13-year-old son, Thomas, in the throes of grieving his own father’s recent death; Nicolas’ son, 15-year-old Jesse, and 4-year-old daughter, Oona, coincidentally Georgianna’s age in 1941. Georgianna discovers that her parents’ lives and deaths were more complex and mysterious than she thought and not truly knowable. Shreve creates a spooky atmosphere with stormy weather, eerie parallels between past and present, and at least one threateningly crazy woman. Even spookier is the backdrop of 20th-century racism, anti-Semitism, and anti-immigration feeling that are all too familiar today.

Part gothic novel, part adventure story, but primarily a meditation on surmounting misfortunes that may lie beyond an individual’s control.

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-29294-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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Whitehead continues the African-American artists' inquiry into race mythology and history with rousing audacity and...

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THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

What if the metaphorical Underground Railroad had been an actual…underground railroad, complete with steam locomotive pulling a “dilapidated box car” along a subterranean nexus of steel tracks?

For roughly its first 60 pages, this novel behaves like a prelude to a slave narrative which is, at once, more jolting and sepulchral than the classic firsthand accounts of William Wells Brown and Solomon Northup. Its protagonist, Cora, is among several African-American men and women enslaved on a Georgia plantation and facing a spectrum of savage indignities to their bodies and souls. A way out materializes in the form of an educated slave named Caesar, who tells her about an underground railroad that can deliver her and others northward to freedom. So far, so familiar. But Whitehead, whose eclectic body of work encompasses novels (Zone One, 2011, etc.) playing fast and loose with “real life,” both past and present, fires his most daring change-up yet by giving the underground railroad physical form. This train conveys Cora, Caesar, and other escapees first to a South Carolina also historically unrecognizable with its skyscrapers and its seemingly, if microscopically, more liberal attitude toward black people. Compared with Georgia, though, the place seems so much easier that Cora and Caesar are tempted to remain, until more sinister plans for the ex-slaves’ destiny reveal themselves. So it’s back on the train and on to several more stops: in North Carolina, where they’ve not only abolished slavery, but are intent on abolishing black people, too; through a barren, more forbidding Tennessee; on to a (seemingly) more hospitable Indiana, and restlessly onward. With each stop, a slave catcher named Ridgeway, dispensing long-winded rationales for his wicked calling, doggedly pursues Cora and her diminishing company of refugees. And with every change of venue, Cora discovers anew that “freedom was a thing that shifted as you looked at it, the way a forest is dense with trees up close but from outside, the empty meadow, you see its true limits.” Imagine a runaway slave novel written with Joseph Heller’s deadpan voice leasing both Frederick Douglass’ grim realities and H.P. Lovecraft’s rococo fantasies…and that’s when you begin to understand how startlingly original this book is.

Whitehead continues the African-American artists' inquiry into race mythology and history with rousing audacity and razor-sharp ingenuity; he is now assuredly a writer of the first rank.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-385-53703-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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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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