ALL OUR WORLDLY GOODS

More buried treasure from the French author killed at Auschwitz in 1942 and re-discovered in 2006; this story of a middle-class family roiled by love and war was posthumously published in 1947.

Saint-Elme in Normandy is a company town that revolves around a paper factory owned by the Hardelots. Their patriarch in the early 20th century is Julien, a domestic tyrant who has arranged the marriage of his grandson Pierre to the wealthy orphan Simone. Stability and propriety—these are his watchwords. But he has misjudged the spirited Pierre, in love with the equally spirited but less socially elevated Agnès, also being married off. The pleasure here comes from Némirovsky’s dissection of the haute bourgeoisie: she knows these people, their secret selves. Gossip spreads about the lovers’ innocent goodbyes in the woods. A scandal! Both engagements are broken off. Julien disowns his grandson; Pierre marries Agnès in Paris, a haven from the stifling conventions of Saint-Elme. Némirovsky excels at mordant characterizations, but her depiction of devoted couples is equally convincing, and these young people, romantic realists, make a marriage strong enough to survive a chaotic future; it anchors the novel. That chaos arrives with World War I. Roads are choked with refugees. Saint-Elme and its factory are destroyed, but Julien rebuilds and reconciles with Pierre, for the boy has fought a good war. The inter-war years see Pierre’s discarded fiancée Simone emerge as a power at the factory (capital counts), though her own marriage is difficult. Her rebellious daughter will fall for Pierre’s son Guy, another potential scandal. All too soon war returns, Saint-Elme and the factory are destroyed again, but Pierre and Agnès rise to the occasion. The novel has its flaws. Some characters are undeveloped; the final section is rushed. Yet they are more than outweighed by the author’s almost Tolstoyan sweep, and her vision of a society refracted through one family under siege. For English-language readers, the best introduction to Némirovsky’s work.

 

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-74329-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2011

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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 nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

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MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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