My review of Hannah Kohler’s debut novel, The Outside Lands, published by Picador, is up now on the Review31 site.
“The question of collective versus individual duty lies at the heart of Hannah Kohler’s debut novel and is present in both of its parallel, intertwined narratives. The Outside Lands tells the story of Jeannie and Kip, sister and brother growing up in 1960s San Francisco. Their mother dies in a freak road accident when they are both young; their father is a World War Two veteran. Jeannie marries a doctor, Billy, who picks her up at the diner where she works as a waitress. She soon has a child and moves out of the family home. Kip feels betrayed by his older sister, who he wants to replace his mother. This, along with his degenerating relationship with his father and falling in with a bad crowd, lead him to enlist in the army. He ends up in Vietnam, where, worn down by the humidity of the jungle, the ever-presence of death and the recklessness of his superiors, he lobs a grenade into the tent of his commander, Tom Vance, who barely survives. Back home, Jeannie has an affair with Lee, a teenage activist who works with an underground group forging exemption letters for draftees. When Jeannie learns of Kip’s arrest, she vows to defend him, certain that he is innocent. She slowly comes to terms with his guilt, and this process leads her to seek out Vance, recovering in a San Francisco hospital. She doesn’t reveal her identity, and they fall into something like love; it is only when they are on the verge of moving in together that she tells him who she really is.”