Summary and book reviews of The Kept by James Scott

The Kept

by James Scott

The Kept
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2014, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2015, 368 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Suzanne Reeder

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

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.

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. 

CHAPTER 1

Elspeth Howell was a sinner. The thought passed over her like a shadow as she washed her face or caught her reflection in a window or disembarked from a train after months away from home. Whenever she saw a church or her husband quoted verse or she touched the simple cross around her neck while she fetched her bags, her transgressions lay in the hollow of her chest, hard and heavy as stone. The multitude of her sins—anger, covetousness, thievery—created a tension in her body, and all that could ease the pressure was movement, finding something to occupy her wicked hands and her tempted mind, and so she churned her legs against snow that piled in drifts to her waist.

While the miles passed, the sky over Elspeth became nothing but a gray smudge and weighty clouds released their burden. She loosened the scarf from her face and the cold invaded her lungs. As soon as a drop of sweat slid out from under a glove or down a curl of hair, it turned to ice that flickered...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Throughout The Kept, there are several direct and implied references to the Bible, religiosity, God and the Devil, evil and goodness, retribution, atonement and redemption. With Caleb, especially, James Scott captures his young character's kind yet profoundly damaged soul. A particularly moving section depicts the boy's love—and anguish—for his horses and other farm animals he knows he must leave in order to find the murderers. The book tends to be overly ambitious, however, with its inclusion of so many colossal subjects and themes that sometimes compete for attention in a work chock-full of plots and characters.   (Reviewed by Suzanne Reeder).

Full Review Members Only (694 words).

Media Reviews

Booklist

Scott writes with sustained intensity and strong descriptive powers, whether evoking the pair's dangerous trudge through high snowdrifts, the rough lake town where many answers lie, or his characters' complex lives and motivations.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Scott is both compassionate moralist and master storyteller in this outstanding debut.

Author Blurb Tom Perrotta, author of The Leftovers
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.

Author Blurb Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief
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.

Reader Reviews

Diane S.

The Kept
This is a very dark story , set in the late 19th century, in rural upstate New York. The beginning is very brutal and very explicit and it is this that will set Elspeth the mother, and Caleb who is still very young, twelve or thirteen, on a quest for...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

The Frozen-Water Trade

In The Kept, Elspeth works in the ice trade, which began in the early 1800s. Your chilled water, iced tea and sodas (or pop, if you prefer) owe a debt of thanks to this frozen-water trade, which involved the harvesting, transport and sale of natural ice. The industry had broad ramifications affecting the preservation of food, beverages, and the treatment of illness, now considered necessities for the way most of us live today.

In 1805 two young Bostonians named Frederic and William Tudor decided to embark upon a bold business venture: cutting Massachusetts ice and shipping the product more than 1,000 miles away to sell in tropical climates. (Until his death in 1864, at age 80, Frederic denied the reported story that his older brother, ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Kept, try these:

  • The Invention of Wings jacket

    The Invention of Wings

    by Sue Monk Kidd

    Published 2015

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

  • Belle Cora jacket

    Belle Cora

    by Phillip Margulies

    Published 2014

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    A sweeping historical novel based on the extraordinary life and times of Belle Cora, the daughter of a New York merchant who went on to become a millworker, a prostitute, a notorious madam, a murderess, and eventually one of San Francisco's richest and most revered dowagers.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Opposite of Everyone
by Joshilyn Jackson

"Quirky and appealing characters, an engaging story, and honest dialogue make this a great book!"
- BookBrowse

About the book
Join the discussion!

Award Winners

  • Book Jacket: All We Have Left
    All We Have Left
    by Wendy Mills
    September 11, 2001 is a date that few Americans will ever forget. It was on this day that our ...
  • Book Jacket: A Great Reckoning
    A Great Reckoning
    by Louise Penny
    Canadian author Louise Penny is back with her twelfth entry in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache ...
  • Book Jacket: Homegoing
    Homegoing
    by Yaa Gyasi
    It's all very well to challenge people to be the masters of their own destiny, but when you&#...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Victoria
    by Daisy Goodwin

    Daisy Goodwin breathes new life into Victoria's story, and does so with sensitivity, verve, and wit." - Amanda Foreman

    Read Member Reviews

Who Said...

A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

The Big Holiday Wordplay:
$400+ in Prizes

Enter Now

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.