A profound tale, with its profundity couched in irreligious humor.



The award-winning author of The Prince of West End Avenue (1994), among others, stays true to form with this immensely funny and sad story about the slippery road to identity.

The narrator is Edmond Music, an errant Catholic priest, born a French Jew. At one point, the erudite Edmond explains that priesthood is but a job: “Hypocrisy is a constant of the human condition, unavoidable, as necessary to our well-being as meat and drink.” So he lives well at Beale Hall, an English country estate, where he reflects on human behavior with the aid of arcane or about-to-be arcane books and thoughts, particularly those of Solomon Reuben Hayyim Falsch, the Pish, and William Shakespeare, the Bard. The story opens with Edmond in a bar contemplating the announcement that he’s been killed in a freak automobile accident, driving his “modest Morris Minor of a certain age, into the famous Stuart Oak of the Beale estate.” It turns out that the badly mangled victim was Trevor Stuffins, a local worker. Edmond sips his Calvados and toys with the idea that the Vatican may have sent henchmen who fiddled with his brakes, causing the accident, because the Vatican wants to remove him from his grand digs. Soon Edmond is involved in a contest of wits with his lifelong enemy, the American priest Fred Twombly, who calls him SJ (for “secret Jew”). Twombly has finally found the means to bring Edmond down: he’s stumbled upon knowledge of a priceless Shakespeare folio, possibly missing from Beale Hall’s fabulous library, entitled Dyuers and Sondry Sonettes. Edmond feints, seeking solutions to the problems raised by the missing folio in his Pishiana collection, while others—especially his unhappy lover, housekeeper Maude; his aging dangerously factotum, Father Bastien; and the vile Twombly—keep the action moving at a brisk pace. All the characters are superbly realized, but Edmond, a man battling with himself at the close of his life, is the most engaging.

A profound tale, with its profundity couched in irreligious humor.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-684-8620

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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