An elaborate morality play set among the cult of Southerners and their haunted landscapes.

THE CRAWFORD COUNTY SKETCHBOOK

Grotesque tales of the struggle between good and evil from a dark corner of the American heartland.

Poet and surrealist Janikowski (A Martini and a Pen, 2014, etc.) does his best Faulkner impression here, using a blend of baroque Southern classicism and redneck patois to fuel a portrait of his fictional Crawford County, a character-rich settlement somewhere in the rural South. The book is composed of three primary sections. The first is devoted to the death of Peter Switchback Jr., an honorable man and local farmer who is revealed in an obituary to have died an untimely death at the age of 43. Janikowski plays out the story of Switchback’s life and death in 36 vignettes told from the point of view of various denizens of the community. These largely forgettable characters are merely here to serve as the chorus in a play in which someone is as likely to ruminate on chicken-fried steak or goings-on at the local swimmin’ hole as to give insights into horrific farming accidents or tragic suicides. The novel does offer up a genuine black-hat villain in the person of Sheriff Cecil Morgan, a “damned stupid pus-jacketed skin-eater,” whose family members play the McCoys to the Switchbacks’ Hatfields in their longtime feud. The second novella-length section, “Wild Torrent,” falls closer to Of Mice and Men (1937) with its story of an altercation between two men on a farm, one that also ends badly for everyone involved. It all wraps up with a surrealist fiction about Ashley, the virtuous woman who loved Peter Switchback and longs to rewrite his sad ending. The novel’s exaggerated portrayals, distorted narrative threads, and flamboyant brand of Southern Gothic will ring the bells of a certain literary-minded audience, but more casual readers may find it a bit rich for their tastes.

An elaborate morality play set among the cult of Southerners and their haunted landscapes.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59709-533-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Red Hen Press

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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Hilderbrand’s portrait of the upper-crust Tate clan through the years is so deliciously addictive that it will be the “It”...

THE ISLAND

Queen of the summer novel—how could she not be, with all her stories set on an island—Hilderbrand delivers a beguiling ninth (The Castaways, 2009, etc.), featuring romance and mystery on isolated Tuckernuck Island.

The Tate family has had a house on Tuckernuck (just off the coast of swanky Nantucket) for generations. It has been empty for years, but now Birdie wants to spend a quiet mother-daughter week there with Chess before Chess’s wedding to Michael Morgan. Then the unthinkable happens—perfect Chess (beautiful, rich, well-bred food editor of Glamorous Home) dumps the equally perfect Michael. She quits her job, leaves her New York apartment for Birdie’s home in New Canaan, and all without explanation. Then the unraveling continues: Michael dies in a rock-climbing accident, leaving Chess not quite a widow, but devastated, guilty, unreachable in the shell of herself. Birdie invites her younger daughter Tate (a pretty, naïve computer genius) and her own bohemian sister India, whose husband, world-renowned sculptor Bill Bishop, killed himself years ago, to Tuckernuck for the month of July, in the hopes that the three of them can break through to Chess. Hunky Barrett Lee is their caretaker, coming from Nantucket twice a day to bring groceries and take away laundry (idyllic Tuckernuck is remote—no phone, no hot water, no ferry) as he’s also inspiring renewed lust in Tate, who has had a crush on him since she was a kid. The author jumps between the four women—Tate and her blossoming relationship with Barrett, India and her relationship with Lula Simpson, a painter at the Academy where India is a curator, Birdie, who is surprised by the recent kindnesses of ex-husband Grant, and finally Chess, who in her journal is uncoiling the sordid, sad circumstances of her break with normal life and Michael’s death.

Hilderbrand’s portrait of the upper-crust Tate clan through the years is so deliciously addictive that it will be the “It” beach book of the summer.

Pub Date: July 6, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-316-04387-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2010

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