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The Kept
Cover of The Kept
The Kept
A Novel
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"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...
"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...
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  • "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

    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.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from November 11, 2013
    Scott’s accomplished debut—a dark, brooding tale set in upstate New York in the late 19th century—follows a compulsive midwife who must deal with the tragic consequences of her actions in order to form a family. As Elspeth Howell, mother of five, tromps through a blizzard to return home after weeks spent performing her duties, she finds a grisly bloodbath: her Native American husband, Jorah, and four children have been murdered. Only middle son Caleb, 12, survives. Startled while hiding in the pantry, the boy accidentally shoots his mother. Elspeth survives both this event and the flames that decimate the cabin after Caleb attempts to gruesomely burn the stacked bodies of his family members. The novel dips briskly back in time to reveal that Elspeth’s children were all abducted as infants from other households, since she is unable to conceive children of her own. The price of these crimes manifests itself in the tragedies she now faces. Elspeth and Caleb decide to track down the killers, and this expansive search, steeped in Elspeth’s need for revenge and Caleb’s search for his true lineage, expands the breadth of Scott’s novel and forces mother and son to adopt new identities in distant locales. Together, they face a host of angry villains, any of which could’ve been responsible for the executions. Scott has produced a work of historical fiction that is both atmospheric and memorable, suffused with dread and suspense right up to the last page.

  • Library Journal

    January 1, 2014

    Enter the harsh winter weather of upstate New York in 1897, which from the start plays a role in this impressive debut. Midwife Elspeth Howell returns to her isolated farm and walks from the train station under a sky and clouds as oppressive as her sins: anger, covetousness, and thievery. Upon reaching the homestead, she finds her husband and all but one of her five children, her son Caleb, murdered. A grim story of revenge develops into much more as mother and son track down those responsible, and young Caleb is faced with understanding his mother's crimes and ultimately forgiving her. As they close in on their quarry, the weather escalates into a fierce snowstorm, and they must battle ice and frigid temperatures as well as hired murderers. VERDICT Merging the Southern gothic tale with a style recalling the Western, this action-packed novel would make a terrific film. The author has crafted a laudable, compelling, tightly woven tale with memorable characters, Caleb in particular. Scott writes with an eloquence that urges the reader to return to passages and reread them just to admire his superb skill. Highly recommended.--Lisa Rohrbaugh, Leetonia Community P.L., OH

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • New York Times Book Review

    "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...

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