INCUBUS

The territory that was long ago ceded to Stephen King—ghostly goings-on in rural Maine—is entered to stunning effect in this absorbing tale of demonic possession, by the author of Sister Wolf (1980) and Group Sex (1986). Pragmatic and “sensible” Cora Whitman, wife of Episcopal priest Henry Lieber, tells in retrospect the story of Henry’s ministry in the town of Dry Falls, in south-central Maine, during the summer of 1974, when a killing heat wave and drought presage a frightening reversal of the natural order. Farm animals bear deformed offspring. A woman known to believe in the occult unaccountably “loses” part of a day. Two boarding-school girls playing at “witchcraft” see a mysterious figure lurking in a graveyard; “six girls” attending the same school are “discovered prostrate on their dormitory beds, naked and stupefied.” A nude sunbather is attended by a large black dog that appears as if from nowhere. Husbands inexplicably take sexual leave of their wives; then, as suddenly, become sexually insatiable. And, despite her tartly declared “low threshold of tolerance for anything mysterious,” Cora herself is “visited” by a presence whose shape and substance Arensberg teasingly discloses in a beautifully paced sequence of disturbingly hallucinatory scenes. But this is much more than a horror story. Henry Lieber’s “calling” to serve God is itself an unexplained phenomenon, as is the sudden aridity that afflicts his marriage. Both he and Cora are fully imagined, complex characters, and Arensberg’s unflinching analyses of their vacillating mutual understanding and intimacy, as well as of Cora’s tense relationships with her troubled mother Emily and sister Hannah, imbue this vivid story with an overlay of psychological realism that makes its (genuinely) supernatural dimension all the more horrific and threatening. As much as it transcends its genre, this is nonetheless one of the finest contemporary novels of the supernatural—the best since Clive Barker’s The Damnation Game. (Book-of-the-Month selection)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-394-55696-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1998

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more