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.Read more...
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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-11-11
- Reviewer: Staff
Scott’s accomplished debut—a dark, brooding tale set in upstate New York in the late 19th century—follows a compulsive midwife who must deal with the tragic consequences of her actions in order to form a family. As Elspeth Howell, mother of five, tromps through a blizzard to return home after weeks spent performing her duties, she finds a grisly bloodbath: her Native American husband, Jorah, and four children have been murdered. Only middle son Caleb, 12, survives. Startled while hiding in the pantry, the boy accidentally shoots his mother. Elspeth survives both this event and the flames that decimate the cabin after Caleb attempts to gruesomely burn the stacked bodies of his family members. The novel dips briskly back in time to reveal that Elspeth’s children were all abducted as infants from other households, since she is unable to conceive children of her own. The price of these crimes manifests itself in the tragedies she now faces. Elspeth and Caleb decide to track down the killers, and this expansive search, steeped in Elspeth’s need for revenge and Caleb’s search for his true lineage, expands the breadth of Scott’s novel and forces mother and son to adopt new identities in distant locales. Together, they face a host of angry villains, any of which could’ve been responsible for the executions. Scott has produced a work of historical fiction that is both atmospheric and memorable, suffused with dread and suspense right up to the last page. (Jan.)