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Book Review :: A House for Alice by Diana Evans

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

The title of Evans’ most recent novel seemingly relates to the house that Alice—the mother to the three daughters whose lives make up most of the novel—wants to build in Benin so she can live out her remaining days in her home country. Then there’s the pun on house, as in the word for a family line. Given the focus on Alice’s daughters, especially Carol and Melissa, that title would also make sense.

However, Evans wants readers to think of house even more broadly, as most of the characters are searching for a home of some sort, whether that’s in their marriage or within themselves or in their country, especially given the UK’s colonial past. That past comes to the forefront early in the novel, as Alice’s estranged husband Cornelius dies in a fire at his house on the same day of the Grenfell Tower fire.

The Pitt family’s mourning of their father and husband is complicated by the abusive relationship he had with all of them—emotional, physical, or sexual, depending on the wife or daughter. Similarly, the Grenfell Tower reveals how the UK has treated those who seek a better life there, whether the working class, the poor, or immigrants, serving as a metaphor for a country who says they care for such people, but then abuse and exploit them.

As with those who suffered from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the members of the Pitt family have only each other to rely on to create a home.


A House for Alice by Diana Evans. Pantheon Books, September 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite

Book Review :: Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

 Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Chain-Gang All-Stars is Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s debut novel. After his stellar 2018 story collection Friday Black, this is an important book, but it’s also a good, if challenging, read. He creates an America similar to our contemporary one, but he’s updated some of the technology and introduced a new extreme sport, one in which those whom the state has incarcerated battle each other to the death. What hasn’t changed, though, is the racism and sexism and brutality found within the carceral system. Adjei-Brenyah highlights both Americas through the portrayal of his characters, but also through footnotes that remind the reader that, while his work is fiction, the suffering endured by so many is absolutely real. This mixture of what happens in twenty-first-century America and what has happened throughout American history along with his fictional world that builds upon those realities constantly reminds readers that what happens in the prison system today—especially the for-profit sections of it—is effectively no different from having prisoners kill one another for entertainment. Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxx” Stacker—the two main characters—try to create a relationship in the midst of this oppression and abuse, and they also work to show America what could be different, just as Adjei-Brenyah does in his novel.


Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. Pantheon Books, May 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.