Watson’s powerful characterizations frame large and connected themes: family loyalty, the conflicting capacities of love,...

AS GOOD AS GONE

Bill Sidey wants someone he knows well to watch his kids while his wife has surgery, and so he looks up a rank old cowboy, Calvin Sidey, who happens to be the father who virtually abandoned him when he was a boy.

Done with school, Calvin signed on as a ranch hand instead of joining the family real estate business in Gladstone, Montana. There, Sidey was "a name that connoted power and influence." Calvin later fought in the trenches of World War I. Then he came home with a French bride and took to the family’s business. After his wife died during a vacation, Calvin went first to the bottle and then back to the cowboy life. Son Bill and daughter Jeanette, not yet adults, were left behind, seeing Calvin rarely. Now in the 1960s, Bill runs the family business, but with his wife, Marjorie, facing serious surgery in far-off Missoula, there’s no one to watch over 17-year-old Ann and her younger brother, Will. Motivation here, as with Calvin’s earlier abandonment, seems amorphous and must be intuited by the reader, but Watson (Let Him Go, 2013, etc.) deepens the story with secondary characters and spare, clear, Hemingway-esque prose. Notable is the Sideys' neighbor, retired teacher Beverly Lodge, who falls in love with Calvin. Then there's Bill's wife, Marjorie. She had a wild teen romance with a cowboy, perhaps the root of her distrust of free-spirited Calvin. Finally, there's Lonnie Black Pipe, Bill’s promising classmate–turned–scarred barroom brawler. Character conflict draws blood when Calvin’s Old West code compels him to intervene when preteen Will becomes entangled with a group of rowdy boys and Ann’s stalked by a violent Gladstone newcomer. The latter confrontation, with Calvin’s "capacity for ferocity," deserves a Clint Eastwood performance.

Watson’s powerful characterizations frame large and connected themes: family loyalty, the conflicting capacities of love, and the tenuous connections between humans.

Pub Date: June 21, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61620-571-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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

THEN SHE WAS GONE

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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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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