Old Newgate Road by Keith Scribner

Publication Info: Published January 8th 2019 by Knopf Publishing Group. Pre-pub e-book edition provided by NetGalley. Other editions available since publication.

Summary: Cole Callahan, a successful home restorer, travels from his home in Portland back to his hometown in East Granby, Connecticut. He’s convinced himself he is just there for five days to observe the dismantling of an old tobacco shed. He wants to use the wood for an addition onto his own house in Portland.Old Newgate Road

Cole hasn’t been back to Granby since his father murdered his mother in one of his frequent rages. As Cole checks out his old home, a disintegrating Colonial, he hears piano music coming from inside the house. He is shocked to discover his father, now out of prison, living there. The home, perpetually under reconstruction during his childhood, is in deplorable condition. He soon discovers that his father is also disintegrating into senility.

Meanwhile, Cole’s marriage is falling apart and his son, Daniel, is in danger of being expelled from school for breaking the law while protesting against food waste. Cole decides that the best thing for Daniel would be a summer of working in the tobacco fields, like he did as a boy. But as the summer progresses and he is forced to take a good hard look at his family’s history, he learns lessons not only from the men in his past, but also from the one of his future–his son.

Comments: Cole narrates this story in both the present and in large memory chunks of the past. As he describes his father’s rage and violence, he also says he once believed that all men beat their wives, based on what he saw in his own and his friends’ families.  And that is the core of this novel–the cycle of violence that is passed down from generation to generation.

Scribner is a good writer, but his was not an easy novel to read emotionally. Not only are the men implicated but the women as well–by their expectations of what it means to “be a man” as well as by their silence. I was a victim of domestic violence in my first marriage and witnessed the effects of just the kind of multi-generational behavior patterns he describes in Old Newgate Road.  But this is not a completely gloomy book. Lessons are learned —  and in at least in Daniel, there is hope for the future.

I’m not sure who to recommend this book to — maybe book clubs who want something meatier than the usual fluffy female fare (this book is chock full of discussion topics).

I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

General Fiction, Literary Fiction, Realistic Fiction