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The Kept (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

Kelly's Pick

In 1897 Elspeth, a midwife, returns to her homestead to find her family murdered and is accidentally shot by her sole surviving son, 12 year old Caleb. Elspeth is nursed back to health by Caleb and leaves with him to track down the killers. With a sense of time, place, and mystery reminiscent of A Reliable Wife, we soon learn the long-held secrets that formed their family and how these secrets may have contributed to the murder. Told in the alternating voices of Caleb and Elspeth, this debut pulls together the deep meanings of motherhood, adolescence, and the brutality of western frontier life.

— From Kelly's Picks

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


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.

Product Details
ISBN: 9780062236739
ISBN-10: 0062236733
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: January 7th, 2014
Pages: 357
Language: English