“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, The Kept is the superb literary debut by James Scott —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.
“Scott is a master of mood… This landscape is more mythic than historic, and Scott’s characters are dark brush strokes of appetite and deceit. His central concern, as a storyteller, is the dynamic of consequence.”
“[A] bravura debut....It is a testament to the author’s artisan-like control that he is able to tease us with Elspeth’s crimes from the outset and yet keep the terrible measure of her dereliction at bay until the final clinch, as breathless as it is inevitable.”
“Graceful…unsettling…The Kept is a novel where most everyone harbors dark secrets and most characters are not who they appear to be.”
“Dark and mysterious… A novel whose daring is found in its bleakness… The plot unfolds with a weighty languor reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy… sparse, elegant… haunting.”
“Quite an impressive debut novel…James Scott’s descriptions of nature and his ability to reveal two complex, tormented people are what make the book live and even sing, albeit a mournful, heartbroken music.”
“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.”
“With its vivid sense of time and place, lyrical writing, and complex questions of what constitutes a family, The Kept is an outstanding debut by a bright new voice in American fiction.”
“The Kept is a deeply moving, disconcerting novel… Scott manages something quite difficult here, balancing both terror and tenderness with apparent ease. By the end of the book, you’ll be convinced that he can do just about anything.”
“The Kept is a brutal and beautiful novel. Written with emotional ascendancy, these rock-ribbed characters illuminate loss, desire, and love. James Scott’s debut is a celebration of bracing action, evocative rendering of the past, and literary precision.”
“The Kept is both a thrilling adventure and a literary triumph. 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.”
“What a gripping story teller James Scott is and what a dark and lyrical novel he has written. The Kept is a thrilling debut”
“A work of historical fiction that is both atmospheric and memorable, suffused with dread and suspense right up to the last page.”
“Scott is both compassionate moralist and master storyteller in this outstanding debut.”
“The author has crafted a laudable, compelling, tightly woven tale with memorable characters. Scott writes with an eloquence that urges the reader to return to passages and reread them just to admire his superb skill. Highly recommended.”
“Scott’s first novel epitomizes what’s great in this renaissance [of literary Westerns]: economy of dialogue; unsparing realism; the giddiness and terror induced by the knowledge of liberty.”
“A vivid, violent, beautiful book...At turns tender and harsh, twisted and lyrical.”
“Half beautiful, half disturbing, [James Scott’s lyrical images] decorate The Kept like frescoes in a crumbling cathedral…Feels like the shell of a Cormac McCarthy novel filled with the intricate yearning and familial strife of a Lorca play…A gripping combination.”