Title: The Kept
Author: James Scott
No. of Pages: 368
Genre: Historical Fiction; Thriller
Release Date: 7 January 2014
Bottom Line: Emotionally heavy and intense but missing that special spark which would make it outstanding.
“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.”
Thoughts: Upon the book’s opening sentences, readers know that The Kept is not going to be a cheery novel with its talk of mysterious sin flooding into the horrific scene Elspeth finds upon her return home. The guilt both Elspeth and Caleb carry with them as they hunt down the perpetrators is a physical presence within the book, manifesting itself in the dread and foreboding a reader feels about the likelihood of their success.
An emotionally heavy and intense book, there is little in the way to lighten its tone. The story’s serious tones complement the serious subject matter and uncomfortable scenes that occur specifically because of their searches. To add levity to the story would be to undo the solemnity that is vital to understanding Elspeth’s mindset and Caleb’s willingness to go against every lesson of forgiveness he learned.
Unfortunately, the stark, gorgeous narrative cannot overcome certain negatives within the story proper. For one, Elspeth’s baby obsession remains odd in that Scott does not explain her desires as thoroughly as he does other elements of the story. Similarly, her thoughts of her husband raise more questions than answers. It makes for a rather frustrating read at times as one feels that the answers to Elspeth’s unusual marriage arrangements are key to understanding her motivation and determination.
Extremely dark, The Kept is a story of innocence lost. Caleb’s ruthless entry into the adult world is shocking not only for the acts themselves but because of the complete lack of emotion in which they occur. Even more dreadful is the truth revealed about his birthright and the lasting consequences of Elspeth’s actions. The gut-wrenching final scenes sum up this grim novel about revenge, sacrifice, greed, and resilience and leave readers with a resounding sense of loss at what was as well as what could have been for all involved parties.