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. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.


Eight people become unlikely friends during a hostage situation created by an inept bank robber.

In a town in Sweden, a desperate parent turns to bank robbery to help pay the rent. Unfortunately, the target turns out to be a cashless bank, which means that no robbery can take place. In an attempt to flee the police, the would-be perpetrator runs into a nearby apartment building and interrupts an open house, causing the would-be buyers to assume they're being held hostage. After the situation has ended with an absent bank robber and blood on the carpet, a father-and-son police pair work through maddening interviews with the witnesses: the ridiculous realtor; an older couple who renovates and sells apartments in an effort to stay busy; a bickering young couple expecting their first child; a well-off woman interested only in the view from the balcony of a significant bridge in her life; an elderly woman missing her husband as New Year’s Eve approaches; and, absurdly, an actor dressed as a rabbit hired to disrupt the showing and drive down the apartment price. Backman’s latest novel focuses on how a shared event can change the course of multiple people’s lives even in times of deep and ongoing anxiousness. The observer/narrator is winding and given to tangents and, in early moments, might distract a bit too much from the strongly drawn characters. But the story gains energy and sureness as it develops, resulting in moments of insight and connection between its numerous amiable characters.

A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6083-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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