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In a West Virginia girls’ camp in July 1963, a group of children experience an unexpected rite of passage. Shelter is an astonishing portrayal of an American loss of innocence as witnessed by a drifter named Parson, two young sisters, Lenny and Alma, and a feral boy. Like Buddy, the wide-eyed boy so at home in the natural bower of the forest, Lenny and Alma are forever transformed by violence, by family secrets, by surprising turns of love.

What they choose to remember, what they meet within and around the boundaries of the camp, will determine the rest of their lives. In a leafy wilderness undiminished by societal rules and dilemmas, Lenny and Alma confront a terrible darkness and find in themselves a knowledge never lent to them by the adult world.


“Mesmerizing . . . the physical world [of Shelter]—a girls’ camp in rural West Virginia—is so thoroughly and beautifully evoked that within pages we’re completely drawn in . . . Phillips’ previous novel, Machine Dreams, and many of her finest short stories, deal with the aching distances in the American family, and here she takes that theme one step further, to the broken covenant between parents and their children.”
The Washington Post

“POWERFUL…BRILLIANT…Phillips’ theme is the transition between childhood and adolescence. She writes it as a legendary quest; a passage of exploits through dragons, demons and dangerous enchantments, both within and without….Transformation, for Phillips, is the terror, magic and ordeal of what happens year by year as we grow out of childhood. She has set her remarkable novel at the mysterious crossroads where old safety, with its unexplained shadows, becomes more lethal than new danger, with its fearsome ventures.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review

“If she never writes another novel, West Virginia-raised Jayne Anne Phillips can be satisfied, if artists ever are, knowing that SHELTER IS A LITERARY MASTERPIECE. Shelter has all the spare but precise and profound use of the language that qualifies as top writing, the feel of early Cormac McCarthy and Phillips’ own short stories….”
Gannett News Service

“LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGELS…Phillips is occasionally plugged as a descendant of the Southern literary royals Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor. She does share their strong sense of place and textured language, and especially O’Connor’s love of outcasts….but Phillips is decidedly contemporary, and notable among her peers because she pairs her realism with such thick sensory detail, in a tightly controlled investigation of the power of memory and dreams to replace what years steal away.”
The Nation

“WE COME AWAY FEELING AWED . . . Phillips, author of Fast Lanes, Machine Dreams, and Black Tickets, is a writer of unusual, original talent.”
The Village Voice

“Blending the severity of a fallen archangel with the tenets of symbolism, Phillips has produced astonishing imagery in Shelter, with a mystical sheen spanning the reach between realism and a shimmery, fire-and-ice dimension that belongs to Revelation . . . the propulsion of the novel is beautifully handled, with Shelter rushing toward its inevitable conclusion with all the urgency of a deer in flight. The inimitable Parson believes the voice in his head ‘because it’s the truth, not because it’s real,’ and this absolute distinction is what Shelter also accomplishes….In Shelter, Jayne Anne Phillips has gone into the garden and headed straight for the serpent’s throat.”
The Boston Globe

The Washington Post Book World

“Ms. Phillips has again put her finger on the collective (and racing) pulse . . . The steamy West Virginia forest has such intensity that the book’s pages almost seem limp and dappled. In this ominous garden, she carefully plots a fall, a confrontation with evil and with the desolation of family estrangement.”
The New York Times Book Review

“A suspenseful, beautifully patterned novel….Anyone who appreciates empathetic, fine writing that illuminates our deepest concerns can’t afford to bypass Shelter
The Boston Sunday Herald

“Moving rapidly back and forth among various points of view, Ms. Phillips constructs an associative narrative that moves less by conventional plot than by theme, motif and the subconscious workings of memory…Her people come alive….By the end of Shelter we have come to care about them all, and we are left shocked and drained by the violent tragedy that overtakes their lives.”
The New York Times

“Her lustrous prose aside, in Shelter Phillips displays what may be an even greater gift: a talent for creating abundantly complex characters that nonetheless spring vividly from the page. This defiant, frighteningly beautiful novel is as disturbing as its setting. Built to last, Shelter feels like Phillips’ bid for immortality.”
Harper’s Bazaar

“A beautiful, intricate, abundantly mature new novel [Shelter] is mysterious, fill of dark dreams, menace and the blind tug of sex. A Manichaean struggle takes shape, good and evil in mortal combat, but the battle lines are not clearly drawn….The danger is subtle and pervasive and Phillips builds the suspense relentlessly. At the same time she asks (implicitly) questions that have no answer: Can we protect each other? Where do we find shelter?”

“Written in prose that is often breathtakingly beautiful, Shelter is a rich, vivid novel of moral and psychological complexity destined to stand alongside works by Faulkner and the other masters of Southern literature.”
-Vanity Fair

“TERRIFYING DRAMA . . . Powerful and riveting.”
Library Journal

“HAUNTING … breaks new stylistic ground. . . Shelter rewards us with deep insight into the human condition, conveyed in prose as lush, tangled and ultimately nourishing as the woods in which Lenny, Cap, Alma, Delia and Buddy find their redemption.”
The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“A TRUE LOSS-OF-INNOCENCE TALE . . . a work rich in understanding and depth, unflinching in the face of evils we scarcely recognized in those supposedly simpler days.”
Milwaukee Journal

“Phillips has shown herself capable of mixing the banal and the transcendent, the ugly and the beautiful, until they become one reality, so apparently true one feels one has lived it. Bellington, West Virginia, and its environs are her answer to the Yoknapatawpha County of Faulkner …no one writing fiction in the U.S. today comes near her for linguistic beauty and atavistic, almost reluctant, wisdom.”
New Statesman & Society

“A DARK, RICHLY IMAGINED STORY OF EVIL CONFRONTING INNOCENCE . . . her prose is highly charged yet tightly controlled, palpable with intense visual imagery . . . the denouement, in which the main characters come together in a dramatic, almost cinematic confrontation, reconfirms Phillips as a masterly writer.”
Publishers Weekly


“A CAPTIVATING WORK . . . Jayne Anne Phillips’ writing doesn’t just make you think—it makes you feel . . . with prose that assaults the senses like a lover’s touch . . . she’s the perfect wordsmith for a story about sexual awakening.”
The Sunday Oregonian

“EXQUISITELY CRAFTED . . . Phillips, whose previous novels have garnered great praise, surely is working at the peak of her impressive ability . . . Phillips’ voice in Shelter is remarkable.”
The Wichita Eagle

Shelter, which arrives ten years after the author’s highly praised Machine Dreams, is a rich, dark, mesmerizing experience . . . What may first appear to be a story about lost innocence at a summer camp tales on almost mythic proportions as the children go, both figuratively and literally, into a hellish underworld. Their ability to find their way back out again is nothing short of glorious. . . . And, if it is about nothing else, this extraordinary book is about hope.”
The Virginia Pilot and the Ledger Star