The Kept (Hardcover)
— Cathy is our lead book buyer at Tattered Cover
The relentless, bleak, cold weather
that is pervasive in James Scott’s intense and gripping debut
novel, The Kept enhanced and underscored the vigilance and heightened
sensory awareness that Caleb and his mother Elsbeth maintain as they
set off to revenge the slaughter of their family. Upstate New York
in 1897 still had hidden valleys for remote homesteading and rough,
windswept lake towns where the wealthy and powerful ruled bodies and
souls and meted out justice as was their wont. Elsbeth, a midwife,
harbors dark secrets. Caleb, after witnessing the massacre of his
deeply religious father and four siblings, possesses determination
and grit that belies his youth. They are each unforgettable and
together seem invincible. The power of James Scott’s prose and
characters and the addictive narrative kept me riveted from page one
to the final, explosive scene." ~Cathy Langer
— Joe is reader extraordinaire, former TC bookseller-turned-gentleman-farmer & book blogger
A boy witnesses men who come into his isolated country home and kill
every member of his family except his mother, who was not home. When she
does come home, he shoots his mother mistaking her through his fear to
be one of the killers returned to finish the job. Once his mother has
recovered enough to venture into the unrelenting winter, she and the boy
leave their home behind. The boy searching for revenge, the woman,
atonement. Thus begins the incredible tale in James Scott’s debut, The Kept.
The novel takes place on the New York shore of Lake Erie, in the late
1890’s. The story follows Elsbeth, the mother, and Caleb, her twelve
year-old son. Elsbeth is a midwife who has stolen all of her children,
because she can not have them on her own. Caleb is a boy entering
manhood early, a boy who does not know the woman he has thought his
mother until now. Elsbeth is plagued by guilt, and trying to find
redemption, if only in the eyes of Caleb.
James Scott’s writing is beautiful: from the descriptions of his
landscapes, to the sounds within it, to the secrets hidden in his
characters. This is a compelling novel I found hard to put down, and
when I did, I found it lingering in my thoughts." ~Joe
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
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.
About the Author
James Scott was born in Boston and raised 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 has received fellowships and awards from, among others, Yaddo, the Sewanee Writers' Conference, the New York State Summer Writers' Institute and the Tin House Summer Writer's Workshop. He lives in western Massachusetts with his wife and dog. The Kept is his first novel.