Book Review: The Kept by James Scott

The Kept by James ScottThe Kept: What it is about

The publisher says: “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.

The Kept: What I thought

What a beautifully told story. Not a nice story, but so well written. The atmosphere, the desperation, the loneliness, it’s all very well described.

The story only develops slowly, but that is fine, though I couldn’t help wondering what would happen next. It was impossible to guess.

The relationship between the mother and the children (of which only Caleb is now alive) is not as you might expect and a lot of the book is about parents, identity, and male and female roles.

Caleb is not used to the real world at all, having been stuck at the isolated farm of his parents all his life. His mother has to explain about ordering when they are in a restaurant, and because of his ignorance, he applies for a job at a brothel without fear, focused only on finding his family’s killers. His mother is not happy with the situation, but cannot do much, as she has to go to her own new job each day. They drift apart until they are reminded of their ultimate goal: to take revenge on the killers.

It’s a rough story, not unlike the Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy, while also being a delicate and tranquil story, reminding me of The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (very good)

Number of pages: 368

First published: 2014

I got this: from the publisher, Harper, for review

Genre: historical fiction

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

11 Responses to Book Review: The Kept by James Scott

  1. Mystica says:

    This I think is tough reading but an amazing story. I cannot even visualize a background/so much for my creative powers of thinking!!! sounds really good.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Mystica, it’s very much an American Old West story (cowboys and indians kind of story, although they are not actually present).

      On Fri, Jan 3, 2014 at 11:56 AM, Leeswammes' Blog

  2. mpartyka says:

    Before I scanned down to read your review I thought, wow this looks like a book I will love! Adding it to my list. You know I love dark, could happen family stories 🙂

  3. lomaurice says:

    You have made this a must read for me. Once you likened it to THE ORCHARDIST, you had me. Thanks so much.

  4. I intended to start this in early December, but it never happened. Glad u loved it so much.

  5. Isi says:

    It sounds really great, Judith. I didn’t know it, but I will look for it!

  6. lomaurice says:

    I finished my advance copy last night. Found it extremely compelling. I also liken it to THE ORCHARDIST. I actually loved the story. But when I got to the end I was stumped. I reread it. And I will reread it again.

  7. Nish says:

    I have accepted a copy of this book for review based on your post. I can’t wait to read this one 🙂

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