Thursday, January 23, 2014
Review: The Kept
hardcover, 368 pages
a review copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Tours
If you were to take Cormac McCarthy's prose and imagery, add a whole bunch of commas, with maybe a hint of William Faulkner's rushing imagery and sense of familial doom, you might end up with a writer something like James Scott.
The Kept is a daring book. I put it down, and for a moment just thought--why? And then the images and characters came rushing back to me. Scott begins his novel with a devastating scene: it is winter of 1897 in upstate New York, and midwife Elspeth Howell is trudging through the snow to the remote farmhouse she shares with her husband, Jorah, and her five children. She has money in the toes of her boots, and gifts for the children in the bottom of her pack, But what she discovers is a massacre: Elspeth's husband Jorah lies dead in their bed, and four of the five children are scattered about the home, all dead of gunshot wounds.
Caleb, Elspeth's twelve-year-old son, is the only survivor. But before Elspeth learns of Caleb's survival, there is more pain and bloodshed, and then a long journey toward revenge. And honestly, if this all sounds like too much to bear, you may not want to read on, because things don't get measurably better. Caleb and Elspeth walk toward a town called Watersbridge, perched on Lake Erie, where Elspeth poses as a man, wearing Jorah's clothes, and Caleb takes a job in a brothel.
There is one other important thing about Elspeth. She is unable to have children. All five of her children were kidnapped, each stolen from another mother as Elspeth acts out a pathological, obsessive urge---or, as she puts it, a sin.
The Kept is full of arresting and beautiful images, dark and violent acts, and the redemptive passion of many varieties of human love--all of them flawed and still somehow stirring.
James Scott creates an unlikely story that becomes entirely believable in this gifted writer's hands. The Kept is neither as doom-filled and apocalyptic as Blood Meridian, nor is it quite so unremittingly bleak. But The Kept did remind me of Cormac McCarthy's most violent and beautiful novel. The Kept is not nearly as stark and godless as Blood Meridian, but Scott does seem to aspire to the same kind of uncompromising vision as McCarthy. The Kept is stark and bleak, but there are human relationships, especially the relationship between Caleb and Elspeth, that offer a sense of redemption and hope. James Scott is a writer to follow, and I'll be seeking out any other work he has published. Readers who admire Cormac McCarthy or who liked True Grit, the novel by Charles Portis that spawned two feature films, will find a new writer to love in James Scott.
The author has a website here: