More superb work from an American master.

Henrietta Atkins and one Marburg sister return from Ship Fever (1996), Barrett’s National Book Award winner, in interlinked stories ranging across half a century.

Henrietta occupies center stage in the first three stories. “Wonders of the Shore” takes her to an island off the New Hampshire coast for an 1885 summer vacation with her friend Daphne. Barrett delicately contrasts Henrietta’s life as a high school biology teacher in Crooked Lake, her central New York hometown, with Daphne’s profitable career as a science writer and pseudonymous cookbook author; she plumbs the women’s complex relationship and provides a surprise ending that reveals Henrietta making an unexpected decision about herself and her future. In “The Regimental History,” she is a bright, inquisitive 10-year-old fascinated by the letters of a Union soldier, later learning of the soldier’s sad decline from his nephew, who’s one of her students. In fewer than 50 pages, Barrett considers the cost of war, the duplicity of leaders, and the nurturing bond between a young person and an inspired teacher. “Henrietta and Her Moths” also ranges through time to trace Henrietta’s efforts to help her sister, Hester, through pregnancy and motherhood and to provide a vivid glimpse of Henrietta’s ability to convey the excitement of scientific observation to her charges, including Caroline, her tempestuous niece. Caroline has become an aviator in “The Accident,” which captures both the joy of flight and the cruelty of class privilege with Barrett’s characteristic subtlety and cleareyed compassion. In “Open House,” another of Henrietta’s students faces a conflict that underpins the entire collection: The bonds that tie people to family and community are challenged by the ambition to find a place in the larger world. That theme becomes explicit in the title story, which finds Rose Marburg in 2018 reflecting on her choice to abandon scientific work that led others to a Nobel Prize. As always, Barrett depicts the natural world and the human heart with wonder, tenderness, and deep understanding.

More superb work from an American master.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-324-03519-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2022



A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986



If it’s possible for America to have a poet laureate, why can’t James McBride be its storyteller-in-chief?

McBride follows up his hit novel Deacon King Kong (2020) with another boisterous hymn to community, mercy, and karmic justice.

It's June 1972, and the Pennsylvania State Police have some questions concerning a skeleton found at the bottom of an old well in the ramshackle Chicken Hill section of Pottstown that’s been marked for redevelopment. But Hurricane Agnes intervenes by washing away the skeleton and all other physical evidence of a series of extraordinary events that began more than 40 years earlier, when Jewish and African American citizens shared lives, hopes, and heartbreak in that same neighborhood. At the literal and figurative heart of these events is Chona Ludlow, the forbearing, compassionate Jewish proprietor of the novel’s eponymous grocery store, whose instinctive kindness and fairness toward the Black families of Chicken Hill exceed even that of her husband, Moshe, who, with Chona’s encouragement, desegregates his theater to allow his Black neighbors to fully enjoy acts like Chick Webb’s swing orchestra. Many local White Christians frown upon the easygoing relationship between Jews and Blacks, especially Doc Roberts, Pottstown’s leading physician, who marches every year in the local Ku Klux Klan parade. The ties binding the Ludlows to their Black neighbors become even stronger over the years, but that bond is tested most stringently and perilously when Chona helps Nate Timblin, a taciturn Black janitor at Moshe’s theater and the unofficial leader of his community, conceal and protect a young orphan named Dodo who lost his hearing in an explosion. He isn’t at all “feeble-minded,” but the government wants to put him in an institution promising little care and much abuse. The interlocking destinies of these and other characters make for tense, absorbing drama and, at times, warm, humane comedy. McBride’s well-established skill with narrative tactics may sometimes spill toward the melodramatic here. But as in McBride’s previous works, you barely notice such relatively minor contrivances because of the depth of characterizations and the pitch-perfect dialogue of his Black and Jewish characters. It’s possible to draw a clear, straight line from McBride’s breakthrough memoir, The Color of Water (1996), to the themes of this latest work.

If it’s possible for America to have a poet laureate, why can’t James McBride be its storyteller-in-chief?

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2023

ISBN: 9780593422946

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 9, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2023

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