Kristina McMorris evokes such a strong sense of place in her writing that to open her books feels less like reading and more like traveling.
Her absorbing new novel, The Edge of Lost, opens on Alcatraz Island in 1937, where on a foggy night the warden’s 10-year-old daughter has gone missing. An inmate working in the warden’s greenhouse is hiding information about where she is. We are quickly zipped back to 1919 Dublin, meeting Shanley Keagan, a 12-year-old orphan whose vicious Uncle Will forces him to perform in pubs for spare change. Shan grabs an opportunity to get on a ship to America, scrabbling to forge a future in New York.
How those two storylines intersect is at the heart of this epic, deeply felt tale of struggle and second chances, where Shan goes from a boy with dreams of Broadway to an inmate who “waited for the steel bars to slam” while he served 15 to 25 years.
McMorris has made a name for herself with beautifully written World War II fiction, including her debut, Letters from Home, which was based upon her grandfather’s wartime letters to a girlfriend. Her latest novel was inspired in part by McMorris’ reading about children who grew up on Alcatraz Island, whose parents were employed at the infamous prison. Some of the children claimed to be friends with inmates, although they were forbidden to talk to them.
But Alcatraz is just one of many places in The Edge of Lost, a transporting piece of historical fiction in which America is a melting pot, a place of supper clubs and Model Ts, Prohibition and fedoras, dreams and disappointments.