The Kept by James ScottThe Kept by James Scott

The Kept

byJames Scott

Paperback | January 14, 2014

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Reminiscent of Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers and Gil Adamson’s The Outlander, a powerful debut about a mother’s devastating obsession and a son’s search for answers in the wake of a violent tragedy

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 plains.

Twelve-year-old Caleb nurses his mother back to health, cleaning her wounds and keeping her fed, before they leave their home to seek retribution on the men who committed this heinous crime. As they travel from country to town to hunt the murderers, Elspeth is forced to confront her deepest secrets and question her role in her family’s destruction, while Caleb must navigate the dark places in which killers might reside. The search for vengeance becomes entangled in old lies and past mistakes as mother and son plunge headlong into the unknown future that lies ahead.

The Kept introduces Caleb Howell, an old-beyond-his-years character in the tradition of True Grit’s Mattie Ross and All the Pretty Horses’s Jimmy Blevins; Elspeth Howell, a character as complex and compelling as those of Marilynne Robinson or Michael Ondaatje; and James Scott, a striking new voice in contemporary fiction.

James Scott was born in Boston and grew up in upstate New York. He holds a BA from Middlebury College and an MFA from Emerson College. His fiction has appeared inPloughshares, One Story, American Short Fiction,and other publications. He lives in western Massachusetts with his wife and dog.The Keptis his first novel.
Title:The KeptFormat:PaperbackDimensions:368 pages, 8.75 × 6.35 × 1 inPublished:January 14, 2014Publisher:HarperCollinsLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1443418382

ISBN - 13:9781443418386

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Rated 4 out of 5 by from haunting This book just blew me away, what a dark, atmospheric emotional novel this is, absolutely unique from anything I have read for a long time. It will stay with me for a while, I still keep thinking back on this book and it's characters. It's haunting and it's haunting me.
Date published: 2017-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Had Me Transfixed This book had me transfixed from beginning to end.  I found it a slow read but I literally had to force myself to put it down each night and did actually fall asleep reading as it just got too darn late.  Set in 1897, up-state New York, an amazing opening scene grabbed me and had me hooked that I knew right away this was going to be my kind of book.  What starts off as a tale of vengeance ends up one of redemption.  Caleb, a 12 year old boy, is always the main character and he pulled my heart strings from the get go.  I have a 13 year old son and was able to compare and contrast the difference in the times but still be aware of the innate mindset of twelve years of age.  Very shortly after the book starts it is often hard to remember that Caleb is only 12 and I often started thinking of him as 16 or so; the author seems to be allowing the reader to do so by only very infrequently bringing back a mention of his real age which throws the reader for a loop reminding themselves of this and what this boy is being asked to do and how he is coping with the situation.  Much further on in the book, things change and we are constantly reminded of his age and there is purpose to this as well.  Elspeth, the mother, is an unlikable character but one grows to understand her, wonder at a woman's lot in this era where no psychiatric help was available, where it was the woman's fault if no children were born, and if a baby girl came first she was told to have a boy next time.  Elpseth is responsible for her own actions though and by tale's end redemption is all she can, and does, ask for.  I loved this book.  It was atmospheric, dark, moody, and well-written.  However, as soon as I finished the book I knew it would get mixed reviews and even some bad reviews.  Some readers can't stand dark stories that don't have happy endings.  Personally, I think if a soul finds redemption, that *is* a good ending.  If you want happily ever after, this is not the book for you!  If you want profound beautiful writing that tells a tale about life's sorrows and redemption you'll like this book.  James Scott is a name I will be looking for in the future.
Date published: 2014-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bleak and beautiful The Kept is James Scott's debut novel - and it has firmly established him as a author to watch. 1897. Upstate New York. Midwife Elspeth Howell trudges home to the isolated farmhouse that houses her husband and five children. But, as she draws closer everything is silent - no noise, no smoke, no light. They're all dead, save one - twelve year old Caleb. Caleb, who sleeps in the barn, who is not comfortable with the scriptures his father lives by.....and who saw the men who killed his family. "Caleb feared she saw his guilt, but hoped she saw how he'd changed. He would defend them, he would find those men and he would kill them for what they'd done to his family." Caleb was a brilliant character. It was him I became invested in. His forced entry into adulthood was hard to watch, yet impossible to turn away from. His thoughts, his unerring goal and his path there were heartbreaking. Elspeth is a complex character as well. The opening lines of the book are hers. "Elspeth Howell was a sinner. The thought passes over here like a shadow as she washed her face or caught her refection 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." I was intrigued by the isolated setting and the veiled references to the past. Elspeth's sins, and her past are slowly revealed as the book progresses - not in statements, but in a deliciously slow manner through memories and flashbacks. There are a number of secondary characters that are equally well drawn. And like Elspeth and Caleb, also searching. For a sense of belonging, for acceptance, for family, for wealth, for power, for revenge, for vengeance, for the will to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Scott is a brilliant wordsmith. He prose easily capture the starkness, grittiness, the violence and the hard life that Caleb leads. But the tendrils of hopes, dreams, desires and love are also captured. Scott's descriptions of time and place were just as evocative. I trudged through the cold with Elspeth and Caleb (actually quite easy to imagine as it's -25C. (-13F) outside right now) and saw 'civilization' for the first time through Caleb's eyes. I really enjoyed The Kept. I had no idea where Scott was going to take his story. I appreciate being unable to predict where a narrative will wend. I did read the ending more than once, just to make sure I understood what Scott was saying. And a few more times to see how I felt about it. It's fitting - even if it's not what I would have wanted to have happen. Hauntingly bleak and beautiful. And recommended. Those who enjoy Cormac McCarthy and Charles Portis's True Grit would really enjoy The Kept.
Date published: 2014-02-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A brutal read, but in a good way. A family saga that is desolate, stark, and mysterious. It's hard to say much about this without destroying the power of surprise that is so important in this story. The Kept has a gothic western feel to it, although this first novel takes place in upstate New York. And kudos to the cover artist for catching the flavor of the book.
Date published: 2014-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Couldn't Put Down Set in the late 1800′s it begins by introducing us to Elspeth, a self-proclaimed sinner. At first this seems like some ritualistic, Catholic self-hate, until the truth unfolds in a masterful way. “The Kept” is a dark journey between a mother and son who barely know each other, or themselves, following a tragedy. They’re perfectly flawed and despite some of the damning revelations, you can’t help but sympathize with them. James Scott’s first novel conveys every level of emotion when depicting his two main characters, who both react differently to the death of their family, and to their mutual feelings of revenge. The characters are unforgettable and the adventure rife with uncertainty. I loved this novel from beginning to end for the characters, the depth and lingering feelings it left me with long after I closed it. Historical Fiction lovers will love “The Kept”. It has adventure, every spectrum of character and a story of a unconventional and unforgettable family.
Date published: 2014-01-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Cold setting, cold characters It's 1897 in upstate New York in the dead of winter when midwife Elspeth Howell returns to her home to find her husband and all of her children shot and killed. As she starts to clean up the house and get a fire going, she is blasted back from a shot. Elspeth's only surviving son hid in the closet and, thinking the murderers had returned, shot through the door. Realizing it's his mom, 12-year-old Caleb quickly gets to work on digging out the pellets and making sure his mom survives the night. She pulls through and the two set out on a quest to find the men who did this.  Their quest takes them to a town where Caleb was born, and he realizes a secret that his mom has been keeping for him. As the two try to find revenge, they also must find work to sustain themselves. Elspeth working as a man picking at ice and Caleb at a brothel, knowing that the murderers have been seen there. This story was about many different things: family, revenge, sin, redemption, and winter. It's not often that you read a book where the cold seeps through the pages. The times are bleak and cold, the characters are bleak and cold, and their surroundings the same. Scott did an excellent job of tying all these together with the winter theme.  The characters were a bit difficult to get used to. Caleb, the 12 year old who had never seen the world was the most realistic. He wanted revenge for his family and answers from his mom. While I felt that the question should be whether Caleb could lose his innocence to take revenge, at times this question seemed to drop away which didn't make much sense to me. The bigger question mark of characters was the mom Elspeth. She seemed to just be a drifter and have no true convictions. She seemed to just follow along with her son for wanting revenge but I wasn't convinced of the reason because she was rather wishy-washy on it.  If the ending had knocked me off my socks I think I could have forgiven Elspeth for her lack of conviction throughout the story, but in the end it all fell rather flat for me. 
Date published: 2014-01-12