Rudyard Kipling, living in rural Vermont, writes The Jungle Book and changes the destiny of his neighbors.
Vinton sets her first novel in the late-19th century and constructs it around the contrasting households of an emerging writer and a struggling immigrant farmer. Kipling and his proud, pregnant wife Carrie have arrived to build their dream house, Naulakha, on land adjacent to Jack Connolly's small spread. Kipling, with his exotic background combining India and England, relishes the beauty and isolation of this remote location; Connolly, Irish and disappointed, fumes against and fears the harsh winter and his endlessly backbreaking, scarcely profitable work. The families interact through Addie Connolly, who does the Kiplings’ laundry, and Jack's 11-year-old son Joe, who falls under the spell of Kipling's whimsical inventiveness. A dreamy, sensitive boy, Joe is initially enchanted by the writer's energy; when invited to advise on the story of Mowgli and his animal companions, he begins to identify with the fictional child. Winter closes in as Carrie—assisted by Addie—gives birth to a daughter, but Joe, having broken his leg in an accident, retreats a little from Kipling. In the spring, the writer asks Jack, an ex-railway man, to help dynamite some land. The combination of Jack's slow-burning anger, Kipling's distracting waywardness and Joe's torn loyalties leads to another, more emotional explosion. Joe runs away from home, leaving the two couples to go their separate ways. Addie sees the wisdom of Joe's absence and works to restore closeness with Jack; Kipling, simultaneously dominated and protected by Carrie, will achieve success but also experience great grief and loss. Vinton mines a rich vein of intensity whether writing about landscape and weather, or the soul-expanding possibilities of the creative life. While her characterizations can be overdrawn, especially those of the Kiplings, and the narrative oddly paced, the confident empathy of Vinton’s writing moves the story beyond its weak spots.
Another novel about a novelist, but radiantly colored, sensuous, respectful and rapt; an impressive debut.