Review: The Kept by James Scott

the-kept“Set in rural New York state at the turn of the twentieth century, superb new talent James Scott makes his literary debut with The Kept—a propulsive novel reminiscent of the works of Michael Ondaatje, Cormac McCarthy, and Bonnie Jo Campbell, in which a mother and her young son embark on a quest to avenge a terrible and violent tragedy that has shattered their secluded family.
In the winter of 1897, a trio of killers descends upon an isolated farm in upstate New York. Midwife Elspeth Howell returns home to the carnage: her husband, and four of her children, murdered. Before she can discover her remaining son Caleb, alive and hiding in the kitchen pantry, another shot rings out over the snow-covered valley. Twelve-year-old Caleb must tend to his mother until she recovers enough for them to take to the frozen wilderness in search of the men responsible.
A scorching portrait of a merciless world — of guilt and lost innocence, atonement and retribution, resilience and sacrifice, pregnant obsession and primal adolescence — The Kept introduces an old-beyond-his-years protagonist as indelible and heartbreaking as Mattie Ross of True Grit or Jimmy Blevins of All the Pretty Horses, as well as a shape-shifting mother as enigmatic and mysterious as a character drawn by Russell Banks or Marilynne Robinson.” – Goodreads

On a cold, snowy day in Upstate New York in 1897, Elspeth Howell is returning home after months away working as a midwife in a distant town. Arriving at the family cabin, she finds her husband and four of her children have been savagely murdered, and one son – Caleb – missing. Before she can search for him, she herself is shot down and grievously injured. As Caleb creeps out from his hiding place in the pantry, he discovers his injured mother and drags her to the barn to begin nursing her back to health. As soon as Elspeth is on her feet, mother and son head off in search of the killers. They follow their trail to a town named Watersbridge, a town from Elspeth’s shady past that fills her with dread.

Elspeth holds many secrets close to her heart, more than Caleb could ever imagine, and is positive that her family’s murders are retribution for her past wrongs. As Caleb slowly learns more and more about the truth of his mother’s sins, he is torn between hate and loyalty but ultimately is focused on gaining justice for his murdered family. Elspeth, too, believes that seeing to the end of the killers is the only way she can atone for her many sins.

The Kept by James Scott is the dark and intense story of innocence lost. Scott’s eloquent and masterful writing brings to life the bleak and emotionally heavy atmosphere surrounding Elspeth and Caleb as they travel in search of their family’s killers. The serious tones of the novel are complemented by the heavy subject matter and discomfiting scenes that occur during their search. At times hard to read are the stomach-churning moments of violence, so vividly described, that the two witness with regularity.

There is not a cheery moment to be found in this novel. Be prepared for a serious and heart-breaking read. Scott weaves a tale of sin, murder, loss, revenge, and backhanded justice that will hold you in check until the final, gut-wrenching end. Go and get you some, y’all.

The Kept by James Scott: Read it today!

4 stars

Source: Lincoln City Libraries

 

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