Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Kept - James Scott

Early on in my reading of James Scott's The Kept, I tweeted words to this effect:  I need a hug. 

By the time I finished reading it last night, what I really needed was CPR. And if you know me at all, you can just stop reading this review now and go get this book.

For those who need a bit more, fine. Here 'tis.

Just before the turn of the last century, midwife Elspeth Howell returns, on foot and in the cold and snow and ice, after spending months away, to the isolated upstate New York farm she and her husband Jorah share with their five children. As she passes landmarks that suggest she's getting nearer and nearer..."the fear that had been tugging at her identified itself: It was nothing. No smell of a winter fire; no whoops from the boys rounding up the sheep or herding the cows; no welcoming light."

Indeed, she discovers a horrifying sight: her husband and four of her five children have been murdered, and as she's taking that in she herself is shot --by the sole surviving child, 12 year old Caleb,who, from his hiding place, believed her to be the killers come back to finish their work.

Caleb tends to her wounds, and after her grueling recovery period he and Elspeth take off on a quest to find the killers of their family in order to take their revenge, a journey that leads them to the God-forsaken town in which Caleb was born.

That's the set-up. I cannot do the story justice by telling more, and I am annoyed by reviewers who feel compelled to do so.  I am always annoyed by reviews that reveal too much of what an author has left for each reader to uncover for themselves, by the way, and I will never do that here. 

And mark me well -- James Scott has a discovery for you on nearly every page, whether it's a plot twist or a glimpse deeper into the life and soul of Elspeth, or the heartbreaking reminders that Caleb is but a child, so subtly shaded that I found myself savoring each word of them, and that he bears the weight of a whole lot more than the task of avenging his family's massacre.

This is one of those books that makes me nuts because I now have to figure out a way to convey to my customers for whom I know it would be treasure that they need to read it. They trusted me when I told them to read Hannah Kent's Burial Rites, though, and that is precisely the group of readers who will understand that I would never recommend so highly a book that I know will take them back into the blackest corners of human experience unless there was, ultimately, something there that shook my soul.

That said, and my very high recommendation given,  I will confess that I am very, very glad that the next book in my queue is P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins.