A subtle literary success.

THE MEDIUM OF DESIRE

A love story set in Virginia and nestled at the intersection of art and everyday life. 

Brett Bale is a popular, successful painter based in Richmond. His work is known both for its esoteric characterizations of human emotion (which one studio owner calls “wild, archetypal and primitive”) and elementary appeal (“So few lines. So little paint”). He works on commission, selling to B-list clients through his broker, Salina. Meanwhile, Olivia Martin lives in New York City and works for the notorious hedge fund McCann & Co. Her job is all-consuming, and she’s spent the past four years rotting away in a cubicle, hunched over Excel spreadsheets and dealing with her misogynist boss, Matthew Weiss. When she presents a new algorithm to the company’s executives, Matthew expectedly takes the credit. Finally pushed to her limit, Olivia quits—forgetting that she was forced to sign a noncompete agreement that prohibits her from working for another hedge fund for six months. At a loss, she moves back to Richmond to live with her parents while she figures things out. As a way to expand on his artist brand—and following Salina’s advice—Brett decides to take on an apprentice, who turns out to be Olivia. Studying with the acclaimed Brett reawakens her love for art that she thought she’d lost. In the process, Brett and Olivia fall in love, though not without a long period of hovering, innocent flirtation and momentous internal dialogue. McGlothlin’s (The Piratization of Daniel Barnes, 2018) second novel is a careful study of the effect of a hermetic artistic practice as well as the impact of burning out at an overwhelmingly demanding job. Although some of the dialogue comes off as highfalutin, with its grandiose ruminations on art (“form is everything….The building we stand in is form, originally outlined in an architect’s blueprints….All for a specific purpose, to attain a desired effect”). However, the author creates highly believable characters amid the sobering realism. He compellingly depicts Brett and Olivia’s relationship, constantly questioning the role of art in everyday life, the function of the artist within society, and the place that love occupies in this process.

A subtle literary success.

Pub Date: July 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9890488-9-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Mountainlion Press, LLC

Review Posted Online: May 9, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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