Brilliantly structured, beautifully written and profoundly sad.

THE RISE & FALL OF GREAT POWERS

Rachman follows his best-selling debut (The Imperfectionists, 2010) with the haunting tale of a young woman reassessing her turbulent past.

In 2011, Tooly has washed up after a lifetime of wandering in a small Welsh village, where she uses the last of her money to buy a used bookstore. Twelve years earlier, in 1999, she’s a vagabond 20-year-old on the streets of New York City who talks her way into law student Duncan’s apartment by pretending it was her childhood home. Actually, her childhood was spent traveling around Asia with her father, Paul, until, in 1988, she’s scooped up in Bangkok by her feckless mother, Sarah, and falls in with a band of peripatetic misfits led by Venn, a coolly manipulative con man. The three storylines proceed along their separate time tracks to collectively explore how Tooly came to be the remote, hard-drinking young woman who seems to be marking time in Wales. We see that she’s been indelibly scarred by Venn: He imprinted her with his philosophy of relating to people only on the basis of how useful they can be to you; let her believe they had a special friendship as she followed him from country to country and scam to scam; then vanished just after she turned 21 in New York. The revelation of why he let her hang around for a decade forms the novel’s brutal climax, articulated by Venn with matter-of-fact cruelty after Tooly tracks him down. She does have gentler, more nurturing father figures: not just Paul, with whom she reconnects in a tender scene, but Humphrey, the elderly Russian émigré who tried to shelter her from Venn’s influence and softened her fall after he left—though she doesn’t realize this until years later. Still, the overwhelming emotions here are loss and regret, as Tooly realizes how she was alienated from her own best instincts by a charismatic sociopath.

Brilliantly structured, beautifully written and profoundly sad.

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-679-64365-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Dial Press

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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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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