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THE NORTHERN REACH

Uneven and very slow to gather momentum but worth the effort for admirers of serious literary fiction.

First-time novelist Winslow follows the intertwined (mis)fortunes of several families across a century in a small Maine town.

The opening episode, in February 1977, limns the harsh natural world that has shaped the hard inhabitants of Wellbridge, Maine. It’s been one year since Edith Baine’s husband and eldest son drowned in a storm while collecting lobster traps, and throughout the novel nature is an adversary, “from the dry-bone crack of winter [to] the purgatory of mud season.” As Winslow’s dour tale winds back to 1904 and then rolls forward to 2017, we meet generations of unhappy folks mired in bad marriages, alcohol, and class resentments. Some try to distance themselves from their relatives by ostentatiously embracing the more judgmental denominations of Protestantism. Others, like Edith, disdain the highfalutin ways of outsiders like her French daughter-in-law, who dares to bring a salad of cold string beans and pickled beets to dinner. This relentless litany of disappointment and disapproval wears thin over six bleak chapters, but the narrative slowly gets more textured, beginning with a blackly comic 1992 funeral, following which anxious Victoria Moody is unable to prevent her fiance from joining the drunken efforts of her no-count kin as they try to dig up her father to put a rabbit’s foot in his coffin. The dead man narrates a brief portion of this chapter, and from that point on several ghosts and another dead protagonist appear; they deepen the novel with suggestions that people are more than the sum of their actions and final judgment should wait on full understanding. In the lovely, melancholy closing chapter, Edith’s granddaughter comes back to her hometown because “there’s nowhere to be but here,” and she resumes work on a long-abandoned painting of the old Baines farmhouse, “collapsing in on itself with the weight of all that surrounds it and all that has gone before.”

Uneven and very slow to gather momentum but worth the effort for admirers of serious literary fiction.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-77648-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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