A compelling, politically rich thriller.

The Piratization of Daniel Barnes

In McGlothlin’s debut novel, a lovelorn journalist becomes ensnared in the lives of modern-day pirates in Somalia.

Daniel Barnes has arrived in Mombasa, Kenya, from Washington, D.C., hoping to enter neighboring Somalia. Although he has minimal experience as a journalist, he plans to get a story that will not only make his career, but also convince his childhood sweetheart, Bally, to choose him over her fiance. No official transport will enter the war-torn nation, so Daniel must secure passage by boat. He eventually hires Capt. Zakia, who takes the journalist on his yacht. When pirates overtake the vessel, Daniel is knocked out and later awakens in a “five-by-five cell made of a heinous amalgamation of chicken [wire] and barbed wire.” After about six weeks, he’s driven to the Somali hinterland by associates of Amir Sharif, a man who helps kidnap victims get home. Daniel receives three months of regular food and exercise, but then he’s suddenly shackled and brought to a slave auction. There, a pirate captain, Sayyid, bids $20,000 for the strong looking white man and soon tells him, “Your story of me will put my picture on cereal box like Kobe Bryant.” McGlothlin’s unpredictable debut is a superb portrait of the bombed-out region surrounding Mogadishu, where, as Sayyid says, “death...is a sunset. It bring darkness but happen everyday.” It’s also a classic adventure story, during which chaos transforms the seemingly average protagonist into a formidable hero. The characters—from Sayyid’s crew members to a manipulative sheikh to World Health Organization medic Caitlin—all play specific roles in creating the new Daniel. Readers will grit their teeth at the severe narrative turns, including animal fights in a Roman-style arena and Daniel’s increasingly savage behavior to stay alive (including ear-biting, shooting, and harpooning). There’s great moral heft in the situations in which Sayyid tries to retain his “Somali Robin Hood” status while his Sharia-following brother, Yousef, demands that they work for Allah. The answer to the question of whether Daniel is “the cure or the cancer” for the pirate crew is an epic one.

A compelling, politically rich thriller.

Pub Date: June 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9890488-6-6

Page Count: 282

Publisher: MountainLion Press

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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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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THE VANISHING HALF

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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