A fantastically chilling psychodrama intelligently woven into literary history.

MRS SAVILLE

In this epistolary novel set in 19th-century England, a brother’s sudden return ushers a darkness into his sister’s home. 

Margaret Saville is left alone to run the household while her husband, Philip, is away on business, fecklessly turning to domestic obligations as a way to manage her loneliness. Then her brother, Robin, abruptly appears after a three-year absence, “penniless and beaten” after a harrowing experience at sea. He was the captain of a ship that explored the unforgiving waters of the Arctic. Robin was always a vigorous man, an autodidact known for his insatiable curiosity, but now there’s “something rather shattered about him”—he’s not only physically diminished, but spiritually exhausted as well. He’s also stubbornly laconic and avoids any conversation about whatever experience devastated him. Then a mysterious Russian, Mr. Andropov, a carpenter on Robin’s ship, arrives and explains “the strange time” at sea that shook the captain to his core, a tale hauntingly related by Morrissey (Crowsong for the Stricken, 2017, etc.). Meanwhile, Margaret grapples with demons of her own—her young son, Maurice, dies of illness, a torment that undermines her faith in God. In addition, she hasn’t heard from Philip in weeks, and she fretfully fears the worst, especially as her financial circumstances become increasingly precarious. In a tantalizing subplot, Margaret befriends Mary Shelley, the not-yet-famous author and wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley, who struggles to produce her first book. (This storyline also effectively dates the setting of the novel to about 1815.)  The entirety of Morrissey’s tale is told from the first-person perspective of Margaret, conveyed in a series of letters to Philip. The prose is mercurial, especially the dialogue, which can be beautifully refined and moving: “I find I cannot fault him, for loneliness is a hard master, inflicting his lashes most vigorously during the quietest moments.” But it can also be clumsily overwrought and baroque, as when Mary discusses her husband’s genius: “Words flow from him like rays from the sun, and just as golden, only ceasing for necessary nocturnal rest; and I am not confident he fully comprehends that that is not a quality granted to all mortals in equal measure.” Further, Margaret’s “compulsive writing” can be exasperatingly long-winded and disorderly—even she calls them her “meandering missives.” Too often and at too great length her attention dwells on household matters tangential to the main plot and themes. Yet Morrissey magisterially conjures—first by incremental inches and then in a crashing crescendo—a fearsome atmosphere of something vague but evil. The author builds that cloud of foreboding out of pieces that seem disconnected but finally cohere in a univocal mood: Philip’s worrisome silence, the death of a child, and Margaret’s resentful conclusion that God has abandoned her. In addition, the author cleverly ties that mounting malevolence to Mary’s own writing in a way that genuinely adds to the story. 

A fantastically chilling psychodrama intelligently woven into literary history.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-0-9987057-6-7

Page Count: 203

Publisher: Twelve Winters Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2018

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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