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The Garden of Last Days: A Novel
The Garden of Last Days: A Novel
Andre Dubus III
W. W. Norton & Company, 2008
544 pp., $24.95

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So Brave, Young and Handsome: A Novel
So Brave, Young and Handsome: A Novel
Leif Enger
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2008
272 pp., $24.00

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The Outlander
The Outlander
Gil Adamson
Ecco, 2008
400 pp., $25.99

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The Sister
The Sister
Poppy Adams
Knopf, 2008
288 pp., $23.95

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Reviewed by Elissa Elliott


It All Starts Somewhere

Four novels that will keep good company with you this summer.

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The widow ends up in the town of Frank. She's been told that the only honest person thereabouts is the Reverend Bonnycastle, so that's where she stays—a ward of his, peaceful at last. But then the mountain falls away, and her world turns upside–down. Is all lost? Has she garnered any wisdom or cunning along the way to help her escape captivity? Read the novel to find out—and read it also for the lilt of the language (Adamson is first and foremost a poet).

Finally, a story stemming from an author's visit to an old Victorian house in the Dorset countryside. Poppy Adams' first novel, The Sister (titled The Behaviour of Moths in the UK), is narrated by the eccentric Ginny, also known as the Moth Woman because of her research on moths. Ginny, who is seventy, is expecting her 67–year–old sister Vivian to arrive at Bulburrow Court, their crumbling childhood mansion, after nearly fifty years of absence. Why? Ginny is flummoxed—and nervous.

Just how odd is Ginny? That's the puzzle Adams poses for her readers early on. In the quiet and steady revelations of the sisters' past—from Vivi's childhood belltower fall to the suspicious death of their mother Maud—Ginny and Vivi's stories continually clash.

The Sisters reads like a Hitchcock movie, where every chapter adds to the intrigue. After the surprise ending, which I felt was very plausible, I happily made my deductions about the characters and closed the book thinking that Adams had accomplished something extremely difficult: telling a believable story through an unreliable narrator. But then I ventured online and found that some readers hated the book for that very reason. So beware: if you want definitive answers, you won't find them here.

As each of these books begins with a gift of something—whether it be image or song or experience—each ends with a gift also. Except that on the hind end, it's up to you what you take away. And this is the most beautiful thing of all: that a book gains so many different sets of legs, depending on who reads it, don't you think?

Elissa Elliott is a writer living in Rochester, Minnesota. Her book Eve: A Novel of the First Woman is due in January 2009 from Delacorte Press.

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