Braffet, Kelly 1976–
Braffet, Kelly 1976–
Writer. Sackett Street Writing Workshop, former instructor.
Josie and Jack (suspense novel), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2005.
Last Seen Leaving (suspense novel), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2006.
Kelly Braffet's first novel, Josie and Jack, was a "creepy, captivating debut," in the words of a Publishers Weekly contributor. Braffet, a native of California who grew up in rural Pennsylvania, sets her novel in a lonely, crumbling mansion located north of Pittsburgh. "There is something interesting about the area—its history as an industrial area, with coal mining and the steel mills," Braffet told Vaunda Bonnett of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "The ethnic communities are deeply ingrained, there's a deep sense of history and community." Braffet added: "Josie and Jack has that sense of history and of class. It's fully apparent [they are] … trapped, but they haven't known anything else in their lives."
Josie and Jack concerns a pair of motherless, inseparable siblings, sixteen-year-old Josephine and eighteen-year-old Jack, who live alone in their decaying home. The pair are visited on weekends by their abusive, alcoholic father, a physics professor who minimally home-schools his children in bizarre fashion and rants about the ills of academia. The reclusive Josie and Jack spend their days drinking whiskey, doing drugs, and sleeping together. "Incest, while implied, is never exactly described," observed Sarah Vowell in the New York Times Book Review. "Jack is always kissing Josie, touching her, crawling into her bed, but Braffet's restraint, her obstinate refusal to say how far things go, lends the novel a prim mystery, deepening its creepy intensity." The siblings' obsession with each other is so strong that Jack is able to persuade his sister to seduce a pharmacist's son so they can score prescription drugs. When Josie becomes attracted to the boy, Jack beats him in a jealous rage.
Seeking to escape their father's harsh influence, the pair eventually run away from home, and after a series of arduous adventures, settle in New York City. Jack and Josie meet and move in with a wealthy socialite, Lily, who falls victim to Jack's charms before growing suspi- cious of the pair's motives. Because the author has presented the siblings' "gloomy world with such economical verve," remarked Nicholas Fonseca in Entertainment Weekly, "the sadistic, violent climax comes as no surprise."
Critics praised the novel, particularly the character of Josie, the book's narrator. As Vowell wrote in the New York Times Book Review: "A first-person book lives or dies by the person telling the story, and Braffet uses Josie's voice to impressive effect." According to Library Journal contributor Prudence Peiffer, the "dramatic and horrific resolution is countered by Josie's subtle maturation throughout, and we emerge from the book's spell feeling almost hopeful." Reviewing Josie and Jack in Publishers Weekly, a critic stated that "Braffet's sharp portrait of an asphyxiating love and a legacy of madness is darkly gothic and supremely readable."
Braffet's second novel, Last Seen Leaving, also impressed reviewers with its edge-of-the-seat atmospherics and the things left unsaid. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Benjamin Anastas felt that Braffet transforms the traditional commercial thriller with "brainy mischief and contemporary self-awareness." Her second novel, according to Anastas, "marries a sensitive portrayal of mother-daughter estrangement with New Age satire, C.I.A.-backed drug and gun running during the Reagan years, the search for a serial murderer, … and slacker sex, drinking and entropy at a summer resort." For the same reviewer, Last Seen Leaving is both "more ambitious than its predecessor, [and] more accomplished." Following the death of pilot Nick Cassidy in Central America, his widow Anne and daughter Miranda have drifted apart. While Anne takes up New Age spirituality in Sedona, Arizona, Miranda becomes a drop out and a drifter. After several years of separation, Anne finally tries to track down her daughter, only to discover she has been missing for several months from her last known address. Meanwhile, as her mother attempts to find her, Miranda has holed up in a coastal town in Virginia, and George, the mysterious man who gave her a ride after she crashed her own car, continues to visit her at odd times. Miranda wants only to forget the past, but her situation is deteriorating as cash dwindles and her suspicions vis-a-vis her rescuer's identity (is he the serial killer people are searching for?) increase. There are also hopeful clues that might play back to the death of Miranda's father; however, in the end, the author plays against such genre expectations.
Critics generally responded positively to this second novel. Reviewing Last Seen Leaving in Library Journal, Susan Clifford Braun praised the "skillful portrayal of unresolved grief and shattered relationships [that] lends sensitivity to this solidly crafted and compelling sophomore effort." Similar praise came from People critic Francine Prose, who called the work "deft," and further observed that "Braffet has a gift for creating an atmosphere of suspicion—and suspense." However, Ron Charles, writing in the Washington Post Book World was less impressed, complaining that Braffet's attempts at genre-bending got in the way of a good novel: "The weight of [Anne and Miranda's] static grief smothers any tension here, making the novel pay for its exploration of character with its life." Other reviewers had a more positive assessment. A Kirkus Reviews critic called Last Seen Leaving "a suspenseful, emotionally resonant story," as well as a keen, heartfelt thrill. Booklist contributor Carolyn Kubisz added to the positive comments, describing the novel as a tale dealing with "the fragility of relationships as well as the secrets we keep and the lies we tell ourselves to get us through the pain of love and loss." Likewise, a contributor to Publishers Weekly concluded: "Fluid prose, vivid characters and suspenseful twists lead to a hopeful denouement."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, November 15, 2004, Kristine Huntley, review of Josie and Jack, p. 551; October 1, 2006, Carolyn Kubisz, review of Last Seen Leaving, p. 35.
Entertainment Weekly, February 4, 2005, Nicholas Fonseca, review of Josie and Jack, p. 139; November 3, 2006, Thom Geier, review of Last Seen Leaving, p. 81.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2004, review of Josie and Jack, p. 1153; August 1, 2006, review of Last Seen Leaving, p. 738.
Library Journal, January 1, 2005, Prudence Peiffer, review of Josie and Jack, p. 93; October 1, 2006, Susan Clifford Braun, review of Last Seen Leaving, p. 56.
Marie Claire, December, 2006, review of Last Seen Leaving, p. 68.
New York Times Book Review, February 27, 2005, Sarah Vowell, "Twisted Sister," review of Josie and Jack, p. 17; December 24, 2006, Benjamin Anastas, review of Last Seen Leaving, p. 11.
People, December 18, 2006, Francine Prose, review of Last Seen Leaving, p. 51.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 5, 2005, Vaunda Bonnett, "Region's Influence Permeates Author's Debut."
Publishers Weekly, December 20, 2004, review of Josie and Jack, p. 36; September 11, 2006, review of Last Seen Leaving, p. 36; September 25, 2006, Melissa Mia Hall, "PW Talks with Kelly Braffet," p. 45.
Washington Post Book World, November 5, 2006, Ron Charles, review of Last Seen Leaving, p. 15.
Kelly Braffet Home Page,http://www.kellybraffet.com (April 21, 2007).
Kelly Braffet MySpace,http://www.myspace.com/ kellybraffet (April 6, 2007).
Small Spiral Notebook,http://www.smallspiralnotebook.com/ (April 6, 2007), Scott Snyder, "Scott Snyder Interviews Kelly Braffet"; review of Last Seen Leaving.
Susan Henderson's Litpark,http://litpark.com/ (August 31, 2006), "Live w/another Writer? The Kelly Braffet—Owen King Interview."
USA Today Online,http://www.usatoday.com/ (December 13, 2006), Juliet Varnedoe, review of Last Seen Leaving.