Kept: A Novel (P.S.), The

James Scott
Set in rural New York state at the turn of the twentieth century, superb new talent James Scott makes his literary debut with The Kept—a propulsive novel reminiscent of the works of Michael Ondaatje, Cormac McCarthy, and Bonnie Jo Campbell, in which a mother and her young son embark on a quest to avenge a terrible and violent tragedy that has shattered their secluded family.In the winter of 1897, a trio of killers descends upon an isolated farm in upstate New York. Midwife Elspeth Howell returns home to the carnage: her husband, and four of her children, murdered. Before she can discover her remaining son Caleb, alive and hiding in the kitchen pantry, another shot rings out over the snow-covered valley. Twelve-year-old Caleb must tend to his mother until she recovers enough for them to take to the frozen wilderness in search of the men responsible.A scorching portrait of a merciless world—of guilt and lost innocence, atonement and retribution, resilience and sacrifice, pregnant obsession and primal adolescence—The Kept introduces an old-beyond-his-years protagonist as indelible and heartbreaking as Mattie Ross of True Grit or Jimmy Blevins of All the Pretty Horses, as well as a shape-shifting mother as enigmatic and mysterious as a character drawn by Russell Banks or Marilynne Robinson. 

Reviews

Reviewed: 2018-03-03

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a book, not that I haven’t been reading. I’ve just come to realize that people are less and less interested in other’s opinions, and that’s all a review is after all.

Best practice writing advice is, “Hook them from the first page.” As writers, we all try to accomplish that, but few succeed. I can count on one hand the actual number of books that have literally grabbed me and refused to let go right from the first page. This book was one of them, with an unexpected twist.The first page raised several questions and set the tone for the entire read. The writing was exquisite. But that is where the positives end.

The writing throughout was superb, my hat’s off to Mr. Scott. The subject matter was dark, gritty, real. All of that lends itself to a fabulous read, but on to the negatives.

I am not one for head-hopping (multiple POVs within a scene with no indicator that  the viewpoint character has changed. This book does that and as good as his writing was, it drove me crazy. Right around page 70, when Elspeth was first able to get around and they decided to leave at morning light, we go from Caleb’s thoughts directly into Elspeth’s thoughts, which always makes me stop and review a page or two to make sure I didn’t inadvertently miss something, or turn two pages at the same time.

Then there was the extremely long blocky passages. Some were interesting enough to sustain the hard-on-the-eyes reading, but many more were bloated description. On the positive side, the style did lend to character-fleshing, but little else.

I wasn’t as disappointed in the actual story as I was in the style. The story began with much promise, but fizzled out as it went. A story about so much pain, tragedy, and overall negativity should have a redeeming factor. Something to make the reader think it wasn’t all in vain. This book did not have that. Although Scott displays artistry in his writing, there were other necessary elements missing.

Definitely not the worst book I’ve read this year, but I might think twice before choosing another title by this author.

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