The various perspectives—with some characters knowing more than the reader does, while the reader knows more than...

INNOCENT

’Tis the season for sequels—unexpected, decades removed from their well-remembered predecessors. June sees the return of Brett Easton Ellis with Imperial Bedrooms, another Elvis Costello–titled novel that revisits the lost boys of Less Than Zero, the lost men they have become a quarter-century later and the new Hollywood generation of lost girls after whom they lust. It also finds Oscar Hijuelos returning with Beautiful Maria of My Soul, the title of the lovesick ballad immortalized 20 years ago in his breakthrough novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. Here, Hijuelos retells the story of that ill-fated romance from the perspective of its inspiration.

But first comes the May publication of Innocent, by Scott Turow, a sequel after 20 years to Presumed Innocent, the novel that not only launched the Chicago-based lawyer’s literary career but inspired a spate of popular courtroom procedurals. Though at least one other lawyer turned author has subsequently achieved greater commercial success, Turow remains the master of the form, at least partly because he’s more fascinated by the mysteries of the human heart than he is by the intricacies of the law. Here, suspense and discovery sustain the narrative momentum until the final pages, but character trumps plot in Innocent. The ironic title underscores the huge gap between innocence as a moral state of grace and “not guilty” as a courtroom verdict. Once again, Turow’s novel pits Rusty Sabich against Tommy Molto, former colleagues turned adversaries, with the former now chief judge of the appellate court and the latter as prosecuting attorney. Sabich remains more complicated and morally compromised, while Molto is much more certain of right and wrong. Exonerated in a murder trial 20 years ago, but his innocence never completely established, Sabich finds himself once again under suspicion after the sudden death of his mentally unstable, heavily medicated wife. As in the first novel, Sabich suffers the guilt of infidelity, but does this make him guilty of the murder Molto becomes convinced the judge has committed? Complicating the issue are the judge’s only son, more of a legal scholar than his father though with some of his mother’s emotional instability, and the whirlwind romance between the junior Sabich and the former clerk for the senior Sabich. To reveal more would undermine the reader’s own pleasure of discovery, but the judge, whether guilty or not, might prefer prison to the revelation of crucial secrets. “How do we ever know what’s in someone else’s heart or mind?” the novel asks. “If we are always a mystery to ourselves, then what is the chance of fully understanding anybody else?”

The various perspectives—with some characters knowing more than the reader does, while the reader knows more than others—contribute to an exquisite tension that drives the narrative. Where the title of the first novel may have presumed innocence, the sequel knows that we’re all guilty of something.

Pub Date: May 4, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-446-56242-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2010

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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