A bizarre but delightful sendup of illogical arguments.


The Ugly

A Slovak tribal chief attends Harvard Law School in order to gain the skills to save his tribe in Boldizar’s debut satire.

Muzhduk the Ugli, the Fourth, the leader of a tribe in northeastern Siberia, triumphantly defends a challenge to his chieftainship by winning the Dull-Boulder Throw. But in order to solidify his leadership status, the 300-pound Slovak must climb a mountain that’s higher than those scaled by previous chiefs, including his father. Mount Baldhead in the Verkhoyansk Range appears to be ideal, but then a group of Americans shows up there, claiming that they’ve purchased it from the Russian government. Furthermore, an attorney with a law degree from Harvard University bamboozles Muzhduk and his father into signing over tribal land. Soon, Muzhduk is intent on applying to Harvard himself, seeing it as his metaphorical mountain; specifically, he wants to gain the proper vernacular to defeat the American lawyer at his own game. Despite a perfect LSAT score, he has trouble gaining admittance to the school, but he ultimately takes the place of another student, Peggy Roundtree, who gave up her spot. A concurrent plotline follows Muzhduk in Mali, a year or so later, searching for Peggy. It appears that some governments in Africa have declared Peggy a terrorist, and after rebels kidnap her, Muzhduk seeks to help her with his newfound weapon of words. Boldizar’s lampoons of legal arguments are largely successful even if the frequent classroom discussions don’t always make sense. For example, Muzhduk makes a point about a well-known 1994 lawsuit against McDonald’s by contrasting buying hot coffee with slavery. It is, however, amusing to watch a man who’s accustomed to settling disputes physically engage in a “word-throwing battle.” The novel’s humor carries into its occasional surreal moments, such as Muzhduk’s interactions with a small, blue-furred, and possibly imaginary bear named Pooh (which the Slovak says might be a possible copyright violation). The scenes set in Mali are often tense, as the rebels feel like a genuine threat. Translated Slovak curses are sometimes offensive but consistently hilarious, such as “May your mother recognize you in kebab meat.”

A bizarre but delightful sendup of illogical arguments.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-936767-47-2

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Brooklyn Arts Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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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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