Fragile Beasts (O'Dell)

Book Reviews 
It’s a pleasure to see such a gifted, ambitious writer reinvigorating the tradition of social conscience combined with personal passion that has illuminated some of the finest, most moving works in American literature.
Los Angeles Times

Fragile Beasts marks an impressive step forward for the talented O'Dell, who has broadened her horizons without abandoning her home turf.
Chicago Tribune

With deft prose, authenticity of character, and sheer tenderness, O’ the absolute master of her craft.
Denver Post

O’Dell is an accomplished writer; assured and perceptive, she is especially good with quick dialogue that captures the anger and disappointment these characters carry.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In her fourth outing, novelist O’Dell returns to Pennsylvania coal country for more dysfunctional family drama. When teenage brothers Klint and Kyle, having already been abandoned by their mother, are left orphaned by the death of their father, they’re unexpectedly taken in by an elderly, “filthy rich” recluse named Candace Jack, known for her family’s mining company, J&P Coal. Taking in the two working-class kids, Candace is reminded of her own emotional wounds (a heart long-broken by the violent death of her bullfighter fiancé), and the damaged trio grope their way toward healing amid heated cultural and generational clashes. Under Candace’s roof, likable and inquisitive Kyle begins to develop artistic skills, while sullen baseball prodigy Klint immerses himself even further in sports. When Kyle and Klint’s cold-hearted mom appears, looking to get at Candace’s money, a series of near-tragic events and terrible revelations ensue. O’Dell can overdo the sentiment, but she’s a pro at capturing dialogue, and some characters’ wisecracks are laugh-out-loud funny. Though predictable, this gritty novel is a memorable read.
Publishers Weekly

Their father's sudden, violent death leaves two teenaged brothers devastated. Troubled Klint, a gifted athlete especially close to his dad, shared a love of baseball with him; artistic Kyle also shared this bond. When their mother, who had abandoned the boys, appears at the funeral, she demands they move to Arizona with her, leaving their Pennsylvania coal country roots; the boys voice strong protests. In steps reclusive septuagenarian coal heiress Candace Jack, who decides, somewhat on a dare, to raise the brothers. Her mysterious, vague background includes a love of Spain and ownership of a fighting bull wandering over her vast property. Rocky roads are ahead for the newly created "family," but, overall, so are great rewards. Verdict: O'Dell's love for the fallen-on-hard-times coal country shines through in her fourth novel (after Sister Mine, Coal Run, and Back Roads). A unique blend of such disparate elements as baseball, bullfighting, and fine art along with O'Dell's multifaceted major and minor characters combine for intriguing vision. Her hard-hitting, well-crafted story packs a wallop. —Andrea Tarr, Corona P.L., CA
Library Journal

In this tough and tender tale, O’Dell’s triumphant portrait of loss and rejection, sanctuary and redemption, shines with poignancy, dignity, and transcendent joy. —Carol Haggas

Eschewing the melodramatic excesses of Sister Mine (2007), O'Dell crafts a strong, moving story about a rich old lady and two poor boys who help each other overcome shattering losses. As the novel opens, Kyle and Klint Hayes' father has just been killed while driving drunk; Candace Jack's matador lover was gored to death by a bull in 1959. The 76-year-old Candace has never really recovered from the loss of Manuel Obrador. She returned to America with both the bull that killed Manuel and his teenaged sword page; now Luis serves as Candace's cook and cranky voice of reason while a descendant of Calladito roams the grounds surrounding her mansion in Centresburg, the desolate western Pennsylvania town that serves as O'Dell's Yoknapatawpha County. Readers of the author's earlier books already know that J&P Coal made the Jack family rich while it sucked the life from men like Kyle and Klint's father, poisoned the land, then shut down the mines and left the area's residents to scrabble for a living. Klint, a high-school baseball star, might escape via an athletic scholarship; Kyle doesn't know what he can do with the artistic ability that makes him a misfit in his blue-collar community. The boys' mother Rhonda split years ago, and she's happy to relinquish her sons for $15,000 from Candace, who's been persuaded by her great-niece—as well as by ornery delight in infuriating her uber-capitalist nephew—to take them in. Sensitive, observant Kyle, sophisticated, salt-of-the-earth Luis and cantankerous Candace rotate as narrators, showing the grief-stricken boys and the walled-off woman tentatively forging a healing connection until the return of monstrous Rhonda provokes a crisis. O'Dell's eye for class conflict remains as sharp as ever, but she's broadened the reach of her sympathies, tamed her taste for lurid plotting and found new depths in her subject matter and her human understanding. Not her best novel—that remains the towering Coal Run (2004), for now—but her most mature, opening new paths for this talented writer.
Kirkus Reviews

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