An intricate tale for readers open to a jaunt along the outer rim of narrative possibility.



A time-hopping novel explores a father’s boundless interests and the loyal maid attempting to corral him.

In a repressive nation, an unnamed narrator tells readers that his father “dreamed with his eyes tightly shut or wide open.” The narrator depicts believable notions of a man who is a detective or a magician, but also delivers more whimsical stories of one who is ageless. This father becomes the first man to fly in a hot air balloon when he lives in Florence during the Renaissance. He invents zero, and performs ventriloquism in ancient Rome. The father’s maid, whom he loves and constantly tries to woo (“How about I give you the world?”), cleans up their home and his disastrous forays into public life. As he tries to open a bordello, the state’s secret police arrive to arrest him and his “bevy of beauties.” When interrogation leads nowhere, the authorities destroy all records of the man, thus “freeing him...not only from the clutches of the state but from his own as well.” This suits the father because he loathes facts, history, and labels. Later, during a bloody revolution, he operates a carousel in the city. He’s once again arrested, and his reputation as a clever agitator grows. The state gives him a butcher shop to run so that it can monitor him better while he clings “to our maid the way he must have clung to...the dangerous ledges of the mountains” in a previous life. Will madness someday engulf this serial experimenter? With an ear keenly attuned to the ridiculous, Grof (Artists, 2016) chronicles life in a brutal regime that requires a strong imagination to survive. He introduces vignettes such as “My father an alchemist” or “My father uninterested in facts,” and by leaving out the linking verbs (is or was, for example), the prose brings to mind the titles of paintings in a gallery. The father’s past lives can indeed be enjoyed in any order. But scenes involving the maid and the state proceed linearly, though the author obsessively muddles these with lines like “My father no one’s fool. Or throughout his long life my father everyone’s fool including his own.” The father becomes like Schrödinger’s cat before the box opens, existing in two—or sometimes more—states at once (“My father fearing loneliness. My father seeking nothing so fervently as a solitary existence”). This narrative play, whereby readers might flirt with multiple emotional paths throughout the novel, provides relief from the more concrete, mainstream reading experience. Yet one instance when this technique backfires is in discovering that the father during World War II flew planes for the Allies, and “could have just as easily joined the Luftwaffe, but their manners as well as their uniforms” didn’t appeal to him. Obviously history judges the Nazis by much more serious criteria. Overall, readers may favor the grounded episodes that allow them to latch onto this fractious character more than the flights of fancy.

An intricate tale for readers open to a jaunt along the outer rim of narrative possibility.

Pub Date: June 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63293-227-3

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Sunstone Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 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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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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