Posts Tagged ‘book review’

Book Review: Home Field by Hannah Gersen

Today, Cole Meyer reviews Hannah Gersen’s debut novel Home Field, which follows the struggles of a football coach and his children in a small, rural Maryland town. It explores the different ways that the family deals with the mother’s suicide. This summer debut is not to be missed.

HOME FIELDHome Field by Hannah Gersen, out yesterday from HarperCollins, is a book about recovery. It is a book about the ways people rebound from injury, from heartache, from death. This debut novel follows its characters as they learn the limits of their bodies and struggle to entrust themselves to those around them. Gersen’s bold debut is dark and hopeful and begs us to question how depression and suicide are treated in society.

Home Field sets the pace in the prologue, when Nicole, wife of high school football coach Dean Renner, mother of three, commits suicide. A lesser novel may have tucked the suicide away, but Gersen is daring enough to write it for all to see. It’s when Stephanie, Nicole’s daughter, realizes “what a fragile thing her body really [is]”: a motif the novel returns to again and again. Dean worries at one point that Stephanie “had decided just to put her mother’s death out of her mind,” that she wasn’t physically able to cope, and later he relishes his old football days, the “heavy animal sound of their bodies smashing together . . . the dizzying, disconcerting pain of it.” They’re different pains, different trials for the body to undergo. Every word that follows Nicole’s suicide is a step toward recovery. Stephanie struggles academically and experiments with drugs; Dean resigns from football, only to become the interim girls’ cross-country coach; eleven-year-old Robby withdraws and skips school; eight-year-old Bry develops a sudden interest in his aunt’s fundamentalist Christian church. Gersen’s characters question how to rebuild their lives in the wake of their tragedy. How can everything change and yet feel the same? Read more.

Book Review: Allegheny Front by Matthew Neill Null

Today, Brett Beach reviews Matthew Neill Null’s debut short story collection Allegheny Front, out last month from Sarbande books. Beach writes: “Few authors can so impressively give language to the often unspoken friendships of men, or invest such emotional weight to hunting or manual labor. In his clear affection for the land and the people of West Virginia, Null allows his characters a vocabulary both elegant and rough.” This collection, which describes the rural landscape and the animals that inhabit it with the same detail and care it gives its human characters, is the perfect summer read.

ALLEGHENY FRONTIn Allegheny Front, Matthew Neill Null’s first story collection and the winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, the author returns to the West Virginia territory he mined so beautifully in his thrilling first novel, Honey from the Lion. “The bolderfields, the spaces empty of people—a lonesomeness city-dwellers could never comprehend,” he writes of the setting. “Sometimes it seems you know animals more intimately than people.” In these nine stories, Null continues the work he began in his first book of unpacking the complicated relationship between man and the natural world. He approaches from alternately sympathetic, adversarial, and prophetic angles the slippery morality that arises when people are forced into the roles of predator and prey. All the while, Null adeptly evokes the West Virginia landscape, both as it is and as it used to be—“The Allegheny Mountains . . . were a series of blue lines on the horizon. This was long before the forests were scoured off the mountains and the coal chipped from their belly, before blight withered the stands of chestnut.” Prodigious in vision, and lushly evocative, Allegheny Front will undoubtedly solidify Matthew Neill Null’s reputation as one of the most ecologically and morally conscious writers working in fiction today. Read more.

Book Review: You Are One of Them


You Are One of Them is one of the year’s most highly anticipated novels. Debut author, Elliott Holt was awarded a Pushcart Prize for her short story “Fem Care,” originally published in The Kenyon Review, was runner-up for the PEN Emerging Writers Award, and was one of New York Magazine’s six “literary stars of tomorrow.” Needless to say, when a writer of such promise publishes a novel, the literary world pays attention.

You Are One of Them begins with a childhood friendship in Washington DC. Sarah and Jenny are best friends in the 1980s, enjoying the life of affluent ten-year-olds, though they come from very different backgrounds. With Cold War tensions on the rise, Sarah decides to write Soviet Premier Yuri Androdov and plead for peace. Jenny does the same, though hers is the only letter to receive a response. Jenny’s letter becomes a national sensation and Sarah is left behind when Jenny is invited to the Soviet Union by the Premier to prove that it too is a peace-loving nation. Not long after, terrible circumstances arise and Sarah is left to reconcile the remnants of a complicated friendship. Years later, she receives a letter regarding Jenny, which propels Sarah on her own trip to the Soviet Union. While abroad, Sarah digs into her memory of Jenny in search of a balance between perception and reality. You Are One of Them is a smart and thrilling exploration of friendship, memory, and how we reconcile the two.

You Are One of Them satisfies in the very same way Ms. Holt’s short fiction does, which is to say I found myself lost in the pages. Holt has a way with storytelling that is witty and approachable, and it’s this element I like most about her writing. Holt’s sensibility as an author speaks for itself — there are no parlor tricks here, nothing over wrought, no drippy details, just good strong writing — and her messages are clear. You Are One of Them takes the reader on an in-depth exploration of friendship, the reliability of memories, and the maturity it takes to reconcile these feelings to a satisfying end. Perhaps what Holt so skillfully portrays is that our memories and the truths within those memories are constantly shifting. Much like the Cold War and Cold War propaganda, relying on an unreliable resource will only yield difficult answers. The journey Elliott Holt takes us on in You Are One of Them is a joy to read. Holt is a true talent, and I can’t wait to see more of her work.

If you’re interested, Ms. Holt linked to a piece on her blog referencing Sarah Smith, a young girl who served as the motivation for her novel.

You Are One of Them
The Penguin Press
May 30, 2013

Reviewed by Kim Winternheimer

From the Vault: Book Review – Ablutions by Patrick deWitt

Ablutions by Patrick deWitt was published in 2010 and is deWitt’s first novel. We chose this From the Vault pick because it’s the perfect book to review at the start of a New Year. Somewhat ironically, the book is filled with characters and situations one would resolve against when picking Resolutions, as this book is as much about addiction and self-loathing as it is a study on effective literary writing. The first thing you notice about Ablutions is the point of view. It’s told in second person, which would send many readers running for the hills, but because deWitt executes flawlessly, the construction only enhances the reader’s sense of a narrator who is distanced from a life that is spiraling toward a dark end. The story, which primarily takes place in a bar and focuses on the down-and-out regulars, could very easily border on cliche, except again for deWitt’s deft use of characterization and the strong sense of something building beneath the novel’s gritty surface. The book is simultaneously funny and sad, with a productive ebb and flow that draws you in and spits you out. I would label this a “guy book” because of the overall tone and the predominantly male characters, but readers who enjoy dark novels with flawed characters, drugs, alcohol, and a depressing facade will appreciate much in this small book. Again, somewhat ironically, and much to deWitt’s credit, everything you likes in this book is the very thing you dislike. Because it’s a quick read, and because it delivers in full force, we’re honoring this debut novel as our first review of the year.

Book Review: The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets

Kathleen Alcott’s debut work, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets is stunning, and thrills on a sentence by sentence level. The insight she offers through prose is striking at times, and brilliant, with much more depth and maturity than you’d expect from a first-time novelist. It stands as an excellent example of talented debut writing.

The book examines the complicated relationship between Ida, and two boys she grew up with, brothers, Jackson and James. Ida and Jackson find themselves in various stages of love, as best friends in childhood, and then as tumultuous lovers. However, the premise of the book is more intriguing than simply an examination of complicated relationships. There is a tragic death, a sick parent, and the crafty addition of somnambulism, much to the pleasure of readers. While the work as a whole is entirely satisfying, my favorite parts of the novel were Alcott’s scenes regarding the characters’ childhoods, primarily the introduction of the sleepwalking brothers. Ida’s realization that the brothers are linked by some familial bond within sleep emphasizes one of the many recurring themes in The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets: the boundaries of family and love. Ida recognizes that although she’s as close as an outsider to the family can be, she’ll never share this brotherly bond. Similarly, the plot construction of somnambulism provides a thread for Ida and Jackson’s relationship as they become adults. Ida’s desire to understand, or make use of, Jackson’s sleepwalking is a deft example of how we push toward the people we love in flawed ways, despite our best intentions.

Alcott’s novel is a lyrical treat. She is a true literary talent and skilled beyond her years. I eagerly look forward to reading more of her work.