Best Book of the Week!
The Kept is a mysterious and darkly moody novel that I found compelling from the first sentences. Elspeth Howell arrives home on a snowy winter day in upstate New York near the turn of the 19th century. She has been away for months working as a midwife. But when she reaches home, she finds that her husband and all of her children that live in the house have been murdered. Only her 12-year-old son Caleb, who has taken to living in the barn, is alive, but he has been hiding in the pantry for days, and when she opens the pantry door, he shoots her in terror.
Caleb spends the next few days alternately trying to take care of his mother and dispose of the bodies of the rest of his family. He cannot bury them in the frozen earth, but in his attempt to burn them, he accidentally burns down the house. He ends up caring for his mother in the barn.
The Howell’s home is isolated and difficult to find. As a young girl, Espeth was driven from her home for having spoken to Jorah, the man she later married, because he was Native American. But there are other reasons for the family’s isolation. In any case, Elspeth thinks the murderers must have sought for their house.
When Elspeth is barely healed, she and Caleb set forth to find the three men who murdered their family, men whom Caleb watched from the barn. They stay briefly with an old couple who have been terrorized by the same three men and who point them in the direction of a town on Lake Erie with a terrible reputation. There, with Elspeth disguised as a man, they go to search for the men.
Beginning as a straightforward revenge novel, the book goes on to explore deeper themes. One of them is that of unintended consequences, as Caleb finds that their troubles result from Elspeth’s own actions years before.
This novel is well written and packed with atmosphere. It is vivid and brutal and beautiful.