Extinctions – Josephine Wilson

extinctionsThe first few pages of Extinctions reminded me of A Man Called Ove — a cantankerous old man, Frederick Lothian, former concrete engineer, living in a retirement “village,” too grumpy to tolerate his neighbors, shunning his daughter and son. His complaints about the life in the village are amusing and I thought the story would continue in the same vein as Ove, but the similarities ended quickly and the book took on a more serious tone.

A widowed neighbor in the village, Jan, insinuates herself into Frederick’s life. Her life story that she reveals to Frederick  is full of regrets and failings, which causes him to reconsider his own choices and behavior. He finds himself reluctantly revealing his past to Jan, and over the course of a couple of days, reinvents himself and changes his path.

This book won the Miles Franklin award in 2017, and there are discussions about the recent history of Australian Aborigines (of which my knowledge is sadly lacking). The book is interspersed with photos of architecture and engineering marvels that I found enhanced the story. 

It’s the story of Frederick Lothian, but also of the life of his late wife, Martha, who had a vibrant life that he never knew about, and his daughter Caroline and son Callum, who faced battles he never understood or acknowledged. Extinctions revolves around the struggle to be a good parent, when to cling and when to let go, and the unwitting impact that the personal struggles of parents have on their children. The theme of extinctions —the metaphorical deaths of career, adoption, and marriage —runs throughout.
An insightful book with strong character development. 

I vacillated between a 3 and 4 star rating for this one, but it is worth reading.

 Many thanks to Edelweiss and Tin House Books (W W Norton) for this advance copy.  

 

The Wildlands – Abbi Geni

thewildlandsFour orphans living in a trailer in Oklahoma are just trying to scrape by after a tornado destroyed their home and family. Tucker, the only brother, runs off, and Darlene, the eldest, takes on the responsibility of caring for her two younger sisters, forgoing her dream of going to college. They manage to eke out a living until one day when Tucker returns. He’s been on a rampage with an extreme animal rights group, and now he wants to take his activism to the next level. He kidnaps his youngest sister, Cora, and goes on a spree to save animals and avenge their mistreatment. Darlene is left behind with her sister Jane, torn in different directions to keep her family afloat and rescue Cora.

The Wildlands addresses some relevant issues: the media’s responsibility in reporting tragedy, filial duty, and responsible vs extreme activism. This story kept me on my toes, wondering what Tucker would do next and how 9-year-old Cora would cope with her predicament of remaining devoted to her brother while his actions and behavior become increasingly dangerous.

Many thanks to Edelweiss and Counterpoint Press for the advance copy in exchange for my review.

 

Devil’s Day – Andrew Michael Hurley

devils dayMichael Andrew Hurley is a gifted writer who can create an atmosphere that is unsettling and eerie. In Devil’s Day, John and Kat are returning to John’s childhood home, a Lancashire farm, deep in the moor in the Endlands. John’s grandfather, known as The Gaffer, has died, and John returns to attend the funeral and also help with the gathering of the sheep. A celebration before The Gathering is soon approaching, known as Devil’s Day, where the family prepares a feast and engages in festivities, song, and rhyme to banish the devil from the moor. The devil, however, has already settled in the Endlands, and John’s family is infested with evil.

There is something sinister on the farm. Hurley presents the reader with an isolated set of characters with an overzealous sense of family loyalty and deep roots in superstition and folklore. Kat, the outsider, is the most sensitive to this sense of foreboding, and only wants to get through the gathering and leave for home as soon as possible. John, on the other hand, has a compulsion to return permanently to the farm that only grows stronger each day.

I loved the writing, the foreshadowing, and the fearful apprehension that pervades the story; however, with that much anticipation I expected a powerful, revelatory ending and was left feeling unsatisfied. Hurley could have done so many things with the surprises he leads the reader to expect, and the story didn’t deliver. I was left with more questions than answers. Still, Devil’s Day is worth the read. Also be sure to check out Hurley’s book, The Loney, if you love a dark, mysterious tale.

Many thanks to Edelweiss and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for this advance copy.