A sharp, engaging, and sometimes-painful portrait of family and nature.

Retirement of the Horse Doctor


Schwerbrock (A Joker and Four Aces, 2014) examines the opposite paths of two brothers in this literary novel.

Brothers Jess and Jim Smith have a difficult life from the beginning. Their father is a deadbeat, and their mother, Caroline, hasn’t fared well since he left, turning to alcohol and feeling forsaken by the world and her small-minded hometown. Growing up poor in a small town makes the boys easy targets, all the more so because Caroline is one of the few nonchurchgoers in the community, and various religious sects define the place’s culture. Still, the boys have each other, and they find solace and much-needed income on their landlord’s farm and in the surrounding woods, laboring, fishing, trapping, and hunting. But over time, the boys grow apart, and their lives take them in radically different directions. Jess sees himself as a realist and strives to be more a part of the town, while Jim concentrates on the power of knowledge, using it to escape the place as their mother never could, even if she doesn’t approve of his choice to become the titular horse doctor. She envisions him as a physician, but he can’t face the trauma of human suffering (“Nobody expects a dog to live to be 80 years old”). Still, life invariably delivers tragedy, and this family knows that more than most. The story is deeply character-driven, but rather than showing the reader a great deal of introspection or interior lives, the players’ actions and histories speak for themselves. In fact, the novel is a little light on the description and atmosphere one might expect from contemporary literary fiction, which may make it harder for some readers to get a firm sense of place and truly inhabit Jess and Jim’s world. On the other hand, the focus on characters’ actions allows the complex narrative to present not just a few defining moments in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, but also a larger swath of events, ultimately painting a much clearer picture with an almost Hemingway-esque quality of prose and structure. The addition of classic literature, Scripture, and hands-on knowledge of hunting, farming, and horse trades brings the novel alive, making it a real treat with an eye toward parts of the American experience that often get short shrift in contemporary fiction.

A sharp, engaging, and sometimes-painful portrait of family and nature.

Pub Date: June 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5332-5892-2

Page Count: 348

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.


A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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