Monday, February 3, 2014

The Kept - James Scott

The Kept is James Scott's debut novel - and it has firmly established him as a author to watch.

1897. Upstate New York. Midwife Elspeth Howell trudges home to the isolated farmhouse that houses her husband and five children. But, as she draws closer everything is silent - no noise, no smoke, no light. They're all dead, save one - twelve year old Caleb.

Caleb, who sleeps in the barn, who is not comfortable with the scriptures his father lives by.....and who saw the men who killed his family.

"Caleb feared she saw his guilt, but hoped she saw how he'd changed. He would defend them, he would find those men and he would kill them for what they'd done to his family."

Caleb was a brilliant character. It was him I became invested in. His forced entry into adulthood was hard to watch, yet impossible to turn away from. His thoughts, his unerring goal and his path there were heartbreaking.

Elspeth is a complex character as well. The opening lines of the book are hers.

"Elspeth Howell was a sinner. The thought passes over here like a shadow as she washed her face or caught her refection in a window or disembarked from a train after months away from home. Whenever she saw a church or her husband quoted verse or she touched the simple cross around her neck, while she fetched her bags, her transgressions lay in the hollow of her chest, hard and heavy as stone."

I was intrigued by the isolated setting and the veiled references to the past. Elspeth's sins, and her past are slowly revealed as the book progresses - not in statements, but in a deliciously slow manner through memories and flashbacks.

There are a number of secondary characters that are equally well drawn. And like Elspeth and Caleb, also searching. For a sense of belonging, for acceptance, for family, for wealth, for power, for revenge, for vengeance, for the will to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Scott is a brilliant wordsmith. He prose easily capture the starkness, grittiness, the violence and the hard life that Caleb leads.  But  the tendrils of hopes, dreams, desires and love are also captured. Scott's descriptions of time and place were just as evocative. I trudged through the cold with Elspeth and Caleb (actually quite easy to imagine as it's -25C. (-13F) outside right now) and saw 'civilization' for the first time through Caleb's eyes.

I really enjoyed The Kept. I had no idea where Scott was going to take his story. I appreciate being unable to predict where a narrative will wend. I did read the ending more than once, just to make sure I understood what Scott was saying. And a few more times to see how I felt about it. It's fitting - even if it's not what I would have wanted to have happen.

Hauntingly bleak and beautiful. And recommended. Those who enjoy Cormac McCarthy and Charles Portis's True Grit would really enjoy The Kept.

"James Scott was born in Boston and grew up in upstate New York. He holds a BA from Middlebury College and an MFA from Emerson College. His fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, One Story, American Short Fiction, and other publications. He lives in western Massachusetts with his wife and dog. The Kept is his first novel."  
                                    You can find James Scott on Facebook.

See what others on the TLC book tour thought - full schedule can be found here.

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