The Kept: A Novel (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews


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."   ~Cathy Langer

— Cathy is our lead book buyer at Tattered Cover

A boy witnesses men who come into his isolated country home and kill
every member of his family except his mother, who was not home. When she
does come home, he shoots his mother mistaking her through his fear to
be one of the killers returned to finish the job. Once his mother has
recovered enough to venture into the unrelenting winter, she and the boy
leave their home behind. The boy searching for revenge, the woman,
atonement. Thus begins the incredible tale in James Scott’s debut, The Kept.
The novel takes place on the New York shore of Lake Erie, in the late
1890’s. The story follows Elsbeth, the mother, and Caleb, her twelve
year-old son. Elsbeth is a midwife who has stolen all of her children,
because she can not have them on her own. Caleb is a boy entering
manhood early, a boy who does not know the woman he has thought his
mother until now. Elsbeth is plagued by guilt, and trying to find
redemption, if only in the eyes of Caleb.

James Scott’s writing is beautiful: from the descriptions of his
landscapes, to the sounds within it, to the secrets hidden in his
characters. This is a compelling novel I found hard to put down, and
when I did, I found it lingering in my thoughts." ~Joe

— Joe is reader extraordinaire, former TC bookseller-turned-gentleman-farmer & book blogger

January 2014 Indie Next List


“It is a rare pleasure to read a novel that is written with such self-assuredness, balance, and grace as The Kept, but the fact that it is also a debut makes it all the more extraordinary. Elspeth and Caleb's troubled odyssey through rural upstate New York at the turn of the 20th century is both vivid and compelling, with the starkness of the setting matched only by the ruthless nature of the characters, all stunningly balanced with beautiful prose. Scott joins the pantheon of great American writers such as Cormac McCarthy and Flannery O'Connor in his understanding of the dichotomy of violence and beauty.”
— Emily Crowe, Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, MA

Description


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. 

About the Author


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.

Praise For…


“Scott is a master of mood… This landscape is more mythic than historic, and Scott’s characters are dark brush strokes of appetite and deceit. His central concern, as a storyteller, is the dynamic of consequence.”
New York Times Book Review

“[A] bravura debut....It is a testament to the author’s artisan-like control that he is able to tease us with Elspeth’s crimes from the outset and yet keep the terrible measure of her dereliction at bay until the final clinch, as breathless as it is inevitable.”
Boston Globe

“Graceful…unsettling…The Kept is a novel where most everyone harbors dark secrets and most characters are not who they appear to be.”
USA Today

“Dark and mysterious… A novel whose daring is found in its bleakness… The plot unfolds with a weighty languor reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy… sparse, elegant… haunting.”
New York Times

“Quite an impressive debut novel…James Scott’s descriptions of nature and his ability to reveal two complex, tormented people are what make the book live and even sing, albeit a mournful, heartbroken music.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“The Kept starts out as a straightforward revenge narrative, then slowly deepens into something much more mysterious and compelling. James Scott has written a riveting and memorable debut novel.”
Tom Perrotta, author of The Leftovers

“With its vivid sense of time and place, lyrical writing, and complex questions of what constitutes a family, The Kept is an outstanding debut by a bright new voice in American fiction.”
Ron Rash, author of Nothing Gold Can Stay

“The Kept is a deeply moving, disconcerting novel… Scott manages something quite difficult here, balancing both terror and tenderness with apparent ease. By the end of the book, you’ll be convinced that he can do just about anything.”
Kevin Wilson, author of The Family Fang

“The Kept is a brutal and beautiful novel. Written with emotional ascendancy, these rock-ribbed characters illuminate loss, desire, and love. James Scott’s debut is a celebration of bracing action, evocative rendering of the past, and literary precision.”
Julianna Baggott, author of Girl Talk and Pure

“The Kept is both a thrilling adventure and a literary triumph. Following the journey of a mother and son who lose everything, only to find each other, James Scott’s haunting tale will astonish and enchant you, the words echoing long after the final pages have turned.”
Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief

“What a gripping story teller James Scott is and what a dark and lyrical novel he has written. The Kept is a thrilling debut”
Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy

“A work of historical fiction that is both atmospheric and memorable, suffused with dread and suspense right up to the last page.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Scott is both compassionate moralist and master storyteller in this outstanding debut.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“The author has crafted a laudable, compelling, tightly woven tale with memorable characters. Scott writes with an eloquence that urges the reader to return to passages and reread them just to admire his superb skill. Highly recommended.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“Scott’s first novel epitomizes what’s great in this renaissance [of literary Westerns]: economy of dialogue; unsparing realism; the giddiness and terror induced by the knowledge of liberty.”
Maclean's

“A vivid, violent, beautiful book...At turns tender and harsh, twisted and lyrical.”
Interview

“Half beautiful, half disturbing, [James Scott’s lyrical images] decorate The Kept like frescoes in a crumbling cathedral…Feels like the shell of a Cormac McCarthy novel filled with the intricate yearning and familial strife of a Lorca play…A gripping combination.”
The Rumpus


Product Details
ISBN: 9780062236739
ISBN-10: 0062236733
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: January 7th, 2014
Pages: 368
Language: English