This razor-sharp morality tale can be read in an afternoon but contains a lifetime of wisdom about how we cope with the...

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STRIKE YOUR HEART

From France: The life of an exceptional woman is cursed and blessed from the start by her mother's failures.

This slim novel by Nothomb, a popular and prolific Belgian author who resides in Paris, has been translated by Anderson, who translated The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and seems poised to take off for the same reasons that novel did—elegant writing, fairy-tale qualities, psychological insight, a toothsome plot, and an intoxicating Frenchness—or perhaps in this case, Belgian-ness. First, we meet Marie. "Tall, with a good figure, her face lit with a blond radiance...Marie was nineteen and her time had come. She could sense that an extraordinary destiny awaited her." Marie easily snags the attention of the best-looking boy in town, and "when the girls looked at her their painful envy turned to hatred, and she thrilled to the pleasure of their gaze." This self-regard and competitiveness become quite problematic as Marie's actual, nonextraordinary destiny unfolds: pregnancy, early marriage, and motherhood in a dull, small town. Nothing makes her happy, not her perfect wedding or her pretty town house or her adorable baby girl. "You are the loveliest little girl I've ever seen," says her husband to their newborn, and "Marie's heart froze." The baby, named Diane, is the star of this story. She is shaped by her mother's coldness and jealousy in ways that are far from predictable. The remainder of the novel tracks Diane’s relationships with the other females in her life: her grandmother, a sister, a best friend, and, most importantly, a mentor she meets in medical school and that woman's daughter. Nothomb has published a book a year since 1992; though quite a few are available in English, she is still something of an unknown. Perhaps this new novel will bring her the recognition here that she has abroad.

This razor-sharp morality tale can be read in an afternoon but contains a lifetime of wisdom about how we cope with the weaknesses of those closest to us.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-60945-485-2

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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