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Customer reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
The Kept
Format: Kindle Edition|Change

on 24 August 2016
The Kept is a striking melding of mystery, suspense, drama and faith set to the backdrop of 1897 rural New York state and heralds a debut voice that spins a tale just as unpredictable as the January weather outside the reader's window. With a multifaceted mystery in the heart of The Kept that probes the corners of the human conscience and gallops alongside a riveting story of repercussions all stemming from the wicked need of "want", the potential reader may find themselves reflecting on this novel days after finishing. Main and minor characters are equally fleshed out and aim to capture the reader's complete attention and sympathy while the stunning writing perfectly balances the stark setting, conflicting psychological suffering and tragedy with moments of endearing relationships. Historical details are shared with the reader so that an easy distinction can be made to the time period with well researched descriptions and the author may fascinate the curious reader with some new knowledge regarding unfamiliar labor occupations surrounding the use of Lake Erie during this era.

That all being said, this novel is not a light read The Kept is an emotional story with details and descriptions of the most heinous acts and the worst of human suffering. If the potential reader is looking for a read that conveys brutal realism-you found it. The only real negatives this reviewer found with The Kept were at times these oddly arranged rushed action scenes that caused distraction to stop and reread chapters to figure out what just happened to a character and the ending was somewhat disappointing. I understand that essentially the allure of The Kept is the bleakness of the setting and the terrible events that propel the beginning and this may not be a read for everyone but still the potential reader should not shy away from this striking debut novel.

Reviewed in January 2014, review written January 2014/ copy of THE KEPT borrowed from local library
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 26 August 2014
This book just blew me away, what a dark, atmospheric emotional novel this is, absolutely unique from anything I have read for a long time. It will stay with me for a while, I still keep thinking back on this book and it's characters. It's haunting and it's haunting me.

What's the book about?

It is the winter of 1897. Elspeth Howell returns to her isolated snow-bound farm to find her family brutally killed. Only her son Caleb has survived and, thinking that the murderers have returned, he shoots his mother.

With her chest bound and Caleb at her side, Elspeth sets out to find the men who committed this heinous crime. But as they get closer to the perpetrators, Caleb discovers his mother has a truly terrible secret and Elspeth finally begins to understand its hideous consequences.

My Review:

Where do I begin? Firstly, let me tell you this is not a fast paced action packed book, it moves slowly, beautifully, surrounds you, pulls you in and gently takes you with it. The writing is sublime, just magnificent. I am baffled at the low reviews this book is getting.

So Elspeth Howell and her only remaining child Caleb set out to hunt the men who killed the family in cold blood, Caleb is twelve years old yet has so much maturity and depth to him as a character, he has the heart of child, but at times the hardness of life makes him almost a man. He has his heart set on revenge, revenge for the slaughter of his family that were killed before his very eyes.

She sounded like death: as if her life was being pulled from her body forcibly. He imagined her spirit like a wisp of smoke, but one with talons and teeth that it dug into her insides and the groan was those nails and teeth being dragged across her ribs, her throat, and her lungs as it fought to keep it's place.

Just let that sit for a moment. I loved every word of this book, I found the writing just drew me in and did not let go. For a debut novel James Scott has written an amazing book, I am a new fan.

Against harsh conditions Elspeth and Caleb trek to a town where they believe the killers to be. From there the story just blew me away, it's one of those books where there is so much hidden, secrets and spoilers that reviewing it is hard, I am busting to tell you what goes on, what they do but it would spoil the entire book. Best to read this with no expectation and an open mind.

The journey they both go on is described individually and together, Caleb is a young boy at times having to do things like a man, to step up and face a world he should not see. He's not giving up on his plan for revenge, it burns in him to kill the men who murdered his family.

Elspeth is a complex character, I had a bit of love/hate going on with her, some of the secrets she hides had me conflicted as a reader, but it was brilliantly written, she is a exceptional woman, a character that I will never forget. Her secrets are kept close to her chest, but they weigh her down heavily. She's made choices that will change both of their lives forever.

The town embraces the two newcomers, but there are those that see the truth behind the smoke screens, there is a need to watch their backs and be careful. Friends and enemies.

The book is full of scenes that just take your breath away, moments that shock and surprise. There were times reading this book that I teared up a bit and felt so heavy of heart, my heart was breaking for Caleb. Oh Caleb. Beautiful young man.

He worried the woman would hold him and feel within him the lies and the failures that stacked upon his chest at night and made it hard for him to breathe, as if maybe he'd be heavier to her, and she'd hold him at arm's length and wonder how he'd gotten so full of rot and poison, not knowing what he'd seen or what he'd had to do.

The ending was powerful and emotive, but it will not sit well with some readers, not all books have a happy ending, sometimes darkness prevails, it ends but leaves you hanging almost, I sat with so many feelings in me after reading the last few pages. I just had to process what had happened.

A stunning debut novel written exceptionally well, it's unlike anything else I have read, can't compare it to another book, nothing comes to mind. It's a special book and I loved ever minute of it. Again, I do not understand the low ratings and reviews. Magnificent.
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on 27 April 2014
I thought at first that James Scott’s hyped first novel "The Kept" might turn out to be stunning. The beginning was strikingly well written, I thought—not so much the first few pages, focalized through Elspeth, as the longer subsequent section centered on her twelve-year-old son Caleb as he tries to cope alone with the aftermath of the massacre of his family in a remote farm in northern New York State. Some of the scenes here are genuinely haunting. The next section of the narrative, the beginning of Caleb and Elspeth’s grueling winter journey to avenge their dead, was also pretty good.

Around ten chapters in, however, as mother and son head towards the fictional town of Watersbridge, where the remainder of the novel takes place, the quality of the writing takes quite a sharp downturn from which I felt it never recovered. This is apparent first stylistically, at the level of phrase and sentence. The prose goes from being highly curated to oddly lax, as though there were whole stretches that hadn’t been properly revised (“his mouth went sideways with a sickening crunch”; “Elspeth heard the thunderous stampeding of Owen and his friends, the wails and squeals they’d emitted [...], the closet full of rolled white bandages.”) Some sentences even sound as if they had been—badly—translated from another language (“While her lungs and muscles coursed with the fight, her broken nose ached in the wind, and her ears rang from Owen’s gun, she continued on.”)

The narrative also crucially loses momentum in the long central passage in Watersbridge. Caleb and Elspeth go their separate ways, he to hang around in a louche and violent saloon-brothel where he hopes to discover his family’s killers, she to work in the ice trade, which seems the main industry of the town. The novel becomes quite densely peopled with new characters at this point and loses focus, haring off after—to my mind—not especially engaging sub-plots, such as the developing relationship between a cross-dressed Elspeth and her implausibly characterized coworker Charles. By the times the threads of the novel begin to be pulled together in anticipation of a predictably violent dénouement—"The Kept" likes its violence—my interest had completely dissipated. Even if it hadn’t, I think Scott’s inert style of action writing in the final chapters would have probably been the nail in the coffin (“Shane got between them and the two men tussled before Ethan grew weary of it and flung Shane aside. Elspeth, too, tried to stop Ethan, but Owen pressed a hand to her midsection.”)

Quite a few reviews, both in the press and on this site, describe this book as bleak, and I suppose it is, if you base your estimate of bleakness on the body count and the weather. There’s a quite a strong element of sentimentality in The Kept, however, apparent in the treatment of Elspeth’s and Caleb’s relationship towards the end of the novel, and also of Elspeth’s relationship with Charles. Stoner, which I read immediately before this, is much more genuinely bleak in all kinds of ways, even though no little girls are shot in the head and no hapless messenger boys get crushed under massive blocks of ice.

"The Kept"’s sentimental vein reaches its apogee when the nice Jewish man who runs the “mercantile” in Watersbridge is shown giving credit—a lot of it—to Caleb, despite the fact that he is twelve, has no obvious means of support, and has just arrived in town. Later, he and his equally nice dressmaker wife, between them, give away an entire wardrobe of expensive clothes and accessories to Elspeth, a complete stranger, on an impulse of human sympathy. I get the point that this household is supposed to represent some kind of positive extreme within the spectrum of mainly dysfunctional families, biological and otherwise, that Scott piles into the novel as comparative material for the dysfunctional-functional family at its core. I must say, though, that’s not really how I would imagine the business model of shopkeepers in a tough, late nineteenth-century frontier town.
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