cover image The Signal Flame

The Signal Flame

Andrew Krivák. Scribner, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5011-2637-6

National Book Award–finalist Krivák continues in the tradition of his debut (The Sojourn) with this bleak but breathtaking second novel. The book opens with the death of the family patriarch, Jozef Vinich, who leaves his sprawling farm in Pennsylvania’s rural Endless Mountains to his daughter, Hannah, and oldest grandson, Bo. While Bo runs the roughing mill, Hannah tends the chickens, and the two await the return of Bo’s brother, Sam, who is reported MIA in Vietnam. Told in three parts stretching from Easter to Christmas Eve 1972, the narrative soon picks up steam with the addition of Ruth, Sam’s pregnant fiancée, and the daughter of the man responsible for killing Hannah’s husband in a hunting mishap. By the third section, more backstory has been revealed—Ruth’s ancestors’ ties to Vinich’s land, Sam’s reasons for enlisting, Hannah’s long-held grudge against Ruth’s father—adding texture and depth to the family’s already rich history. Devastating accidents befall these characters and the heartache they endure is palpable. But there’s love, too. This family saga is quiet at its core, but it’s Krivák’s gorgeous prose and deep grasp of the relationship between longing and loss that make the book such a stunner. (Jan.)