Genuinely moving yet amorphous, like a remembered fragrance that you can’t quite place.

AFTER THIS

A disarmingly understated tale of mid-to-late-20th-century Long Island Catholics from McDermott, who has come to own this particular literary turf after five penetrating novels and a National Book Award.

Mary and John Keane meet in a Schrafft’s restaurant shortly after WWII, fall in love, marry and raise four children. Conventional, middle-class Catholics whose lives center on their neighborhood parish and their family, they have their quirks. Mary half-despises her “best friend” Pauline, a lonely alcoholic who plays spinster aunt to the Keane children. John names their eldest son Jacob, after a young Jewish soldier with whom he served in the war and whose death continues to haunt him. John and Mary have their differences, but their marriage is solid, while their protective, worried love for their children is palpable and real. John’s dismay that gentle, good-natured Jacob lacks the athletic or intellectual gifts of his younger brother Michael is particularly credible and well-rendered. Annie has a special connection with her mother, while youngest daughter Clare, whose emergency birth occurs at home with the help of a neighbor, forms a close bond with Pauline. As the children grow up through the ’50s and ’60s, their story ambles through disconnected, if charming, moments, like Mary’s trip with Annie to view the Pietà at the World’s Fair. When the kids reach adolescence, their lives give the narrative some forward momentum. Spunky, bookish Annie ends up in England with her British boyfriend. Jacob is killed in Vietnam. Michael becomes a teacher. Clare, a high-school senior, finds herself pregnant and decides to keep the baby. The novel closes with her wedding and the bittersweet possibilities it promises. McDermott (Child of My Heart, 2002, etc.) infuses the undulating plot with the knowledge that lives become most vivid in small moments of connection, flashlight beams (a recurring motif) illuminating the dark.

Genuinely moving yet amorphous, like a remembered fragrance that you can’t quite place.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2006

ISBN: 0-374-16809-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2006

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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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A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

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THE OVERSTORY

Powers’ (Orfeo, 2014, etc.) 12th novel is a masterpiece of operatic proportions, involving nine central characters and more than half a century of American life.

In this work, Powers takes on the subject of nature, or our relationship to nature, as filtered through the lens of environmental activism, although at its heart the book is after more existential concerns. As is the case with much of Powers’ fiction, it takes shape slowly—first in a pastiche of narratives establishing the characters (a psychologist, an undergraduate who died briefly but was revived, a paraplegic computer game designer, a homeless vet), and then in the kaleidoscopic ways these individuals come together and break apart. “We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men,” Powers writes, quoting the naturalist John Muir. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” The idea is important because what Powers means to explore is a sense of how we become who we are, individually and collectively, and our responsibility to the planet and to ourselves. Nick, for instance, continues a project begun by his grandfather to take repeated photographs of a single chestnut tree, “one a month for seventy-six years.” Pat, a visionary botanist, discovers how trees communicate with one another only to be discredited and then, a generation later, reaffirmed. What links the characters is survival—the survival of both trees and human beings. The bulk of the action unfolds during the timber wars of the late 1990s, as the characters coalesce on the Pacific coast to save old-growth sequoia from logging concerns. For Powers, however, political or environmental activism becomes a filter through which to consider the connectedness of all things—not only the human lives he portrays in often painfully intricate dimensions, but also the biosphere, both virtual and natural. “The world starts here,” Powers insists. “This is the merest beginning. Life can do anything. You have no idea.”

A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-63552-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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