In the winter of 1897, Elspeth Howell treks across miles of snow and ice to the isolated farmstead in upstate New York where she and her husband have raised their five children. Her midwife's salary is tucked into the toes of her boots, and her pack is full of gifts for her family. But as she crests the final hill, and sees her darkened house and a smokeless chimney, immediately she knows that an unthinkable crime has destroyed the life she so carefully built.
Her lone comfort is her twelve-year-old son, Caleb, who joins her in mourning the tragedy and planning its reprisal. Their long journey leads them to a rough-hewn lake town, defined by the violence both of its landscape and of its inhabitants. There Caleb is forced into a brutal adulthood, as he slowly discovers truths about his family he never suspected, and Elspeth must confront the terrible urges and unceasing temptations that have haunted her for years. Throughout it all, the love between mother and son serves as the only shield against a merciless world.
A scorching portrait of guilt and lost innocence, atonement and retribution, resilience and sacrifice, pregnant obsession and primal adolescence, The Kept is told with deep compassion and startling originality, and introduces James Scott as a major new literary voice.
"The relentless, bleak, cold weather that is pervasive in James Scott’s intense and gripping debut novel, The Kept enhanced and underscored the vigilance and heightened sensory awareness that Caleb and his mother Elsbeth maintain as they set off to revenge the slaughter of their family. Upstate New York in 1897 still had hidden valleys for remote homesteading and rough, windswept lake towns where the wealthy and powerful ruled bodies and souls and meted out justice as was their wont. Elsbeth, a midwife, harbors dark secrets. Caleb, after witnessing the massacre of his deeply religious father and four siblings, possesses determination and grit that belies his youth. They are each unforgettable and together seem invincible. The power of James Scott’s prose and characters and the addictive narrative kept me riveted from page one to the final, explosive scene."
"This debut novel is a powerhouse of a time and place that shows very little mercy to anyone. The frozen land is just as much of a character as is 11 year old Caleb, who has to grow up much too quickly in absolutely horrible circumstances. He heard and/or watched the murder of his father and his four siblings, surviving by hiding in the barn. He gets a glimpse of the three men who did this, and he knows it is up to him to find them and get frontier justice for their horrible deeds. While trying to figure out what to do, he hears someone crunching through the snow. As the door opens, once gentle Caleb shoots the intruder. Unfortunately, it was no stranger. It was his mother, coming back from an extended midwife trip. Nursing her as much as possible, plus dealing with the bodies of the rest of his family, he becomes a man with a mission. Soon, his mother is (barely) able to travel, and both begin to track the killers. Everyone in this book has some sort of secret, even the dead. And slowly, as the hidden comes to light, the action and tension increase throughout this book until the very last standoff. It is hard to believe that this is a first novel--the writing is absolutely stunning. James Scott is truly a new voice to pay attention to."
Tuesday, January 14, 2014, James Scott will be at our Colfax Avenue store to read from and discuss his debut novel. This is free and open to the public. Come join us in welcoming this amazing new literary voice!
Every now and then we encounter a new book that we’re so excited about we want to shout it from the rooftops, so we've created a special tag to distinguish it from the rest: TC VIB (very impressive book)! That means it’s a true stand-out in a season of many excellent and compelling new books.