Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Review: The Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris

Alcatraz, Prohibition, organized crime, vaudeville, making it in America, and redemption. If any of those things intrigue you, you'll want to read Kristina McMorris' novel The Edge of Lost, which weaves all of these together into a surprising and enjoyable read.

Opening in 1937 on Alcatraz where the young daughter of a prison guard has gone missing and one prisoner readies for his escape, the novel then jumps back in time to Ireland in 1919. Twelve year old Shanley Keagan's parents have died, leaving him in the care of his unpleasant, ill, and alcoholic uncle Will in their small Irish town. Shan has a beautiful voice and he dreams of going to America, making it as a singer, and finding the American sailor, biological father he's never known. But when his wish to emigrate comes true, things go worse than he could have imagined with his uncle dying on the ship, leaving Shan without a guardian until an Italian family returning to the US claims him as their child in order to get him into the country. This act of kindness, the first in a string of kindnesses by the Capella family, will, with some betrayals, shape Shan's entire life in America.

Shan is a charming character and readers will be engaged by him almost immediately. He appreciates his small moments of good fortune and is a loyal and sweet kid who grows into an equally loyal and likeable adult. It is entirely believable that his performing in NY supper clubs and on vaudeville would bring him into the orbit of the murky underworld of Prohibition. And it is his deep loyalty to his adopted family, combined with this less than savory connection, that drives the novel's action. McMorris has seamlessly created the immigrant's America of the early twentieth century. Her Shan just wants to belong, to the Capella family and to the community; he just wants to be loved. The end of the novel had a very different tone than the previous three quarters and the resolution was an easy coincidence. Life rarely ties up so neat and tidily but, in fairness, it is what the reader wanted all along. Fans of historical fiction will enjoy this, as will readers who like novels that ask and answer what it means to be a family.

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