We know what’s coming, but so do the characters—that’s part of this tale’s bittersweet power.

CHILD OF MY HEART

After the National Book Award–winning Charming Billy (1998), McDermott returns to the familiar turf of her earlier fiction: East Hampton and the inner life of a precocious girl one crucial summer.

Theresa lives a quietly secure life as the only child of doting, middle-aged Irish Catholic parents with upwardly mobile aspirations. By the summer she is 15, Theresa—the name’s saintly resonance may strike readers as a bit obvious—is not only lovely but wise and kind as well, adored by the young children and animals she cares for. In contrast, her eight-year-old cousin, “Poor Daisy,” is mousy, pale, and generally overlooked among a cramped houseful of siblings in Queens Village. Sorry for Daisy and also sensing a special kinship of imagination, Theresa invites the younger girl to East Hampton for the summer. Daisy arrives with pink plastic sandals she won’t take off. When Theresa stumbles across the reason—bruises on Daisy’s feet and body she can’t explain—a sense of foreboding falls like a shadow of death across the summer. But the foreboding is sexual as well. Theresa and Daisy spend most of their days babysitting the two-year-old daughter of a famous artist. When his much younger wife decamps one morning after letting Theresa know she may be the painter’s next conquest, Theresa finds herself both repulsed and attracted. Day by day, as Daisy’s health deteriorates, Theresa’s sexuality ripens. Meanwhile, the ever-observant Theresa is silent witness to the tragedies rippling under her community’s placid surface: neglected children desperate for affection; a divorced father whose longing for his children almost perverts him; the “tweedy” dowager whose overbearing cheerfulness masks maternal grief. Though hobbled by a tendency toward sentimentality and self-consciousness, McDermott sculpts her small story with a meticulous eye for the telling detail and transcendent metaphor.

We know what’s coming, but so do the characters—that’s part of this tale’s bittersweet power.

Pub Date: Nov. 25, 2002

ISBN: 0-374-12123-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2002

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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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