A learned, absorbing tale of bondage, freedom, war, and peace.

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THE BOHEMIAN AND THE ABOLITIONIST

A CIVIL WAR NOVEL

Prehn’s debut historical novel drops readers into the commingling world of artists, abolitionists, and free spirits in the Greenwich Village of the late 1850s and early 1860s.   

The opening pages of this sprawling work introduce 24-year-old Wendell Harte Parry, a rising American painter for whom “financial success seems more elusive even than fame.” Soon after his return to New York City from a grand tour of Europe, just before the Civil War, Wendell meets Lillian Flax, a pretty young woman who “gave him a smile that made him feel, foolishly, that he was falling.” Within a few pages, Walt Whitman—in the flesh—serenades them with his poem “To a Stranger,” which Prehn—in a gesture that might have horrified the real-life Whitman—center justifies on the page. To Wendell’s displeasure, Lillian turns out to be married to cruel shipping mogul Henry Ferguson, who happens to be Wendell’s patron. Before long, Lillian’s abolitionist activity, and particularly her support for the radical John Brown, puts her in danger. Although he promised Lillian that he wouldn’t pick up a gun, Wendell joins the Union Army and later struggles for his life at Bull Run, where “death and gun-powder hung in the air like the devil’s laundry.” Prehn has quite obviously done extensive research, and she’s effectively fluent in the cultural currents of the era. She convincingly presents a whirlwind of real-life famous figures: actress and writer Ada Clare teaches Wendell what a bohemian is, and he, in turn, becomes one himself; painter Frederick Church and Wendell critique and celebrate one another’s work; author Louisa May Alcott welcomes Wendell and Lillian to her home and joins them to visit Henry David Thoreau in Massachusetts. The characters’ conversations—about the latest New York Tribune column by Karl Marx, say, or the dangers of harboring fugitives—often seem as if Prehn had only just overheard them. As a result, her novel is not just a rousing story of two lovers—it also offers readers a welcome historical education.  

A learned, absorbing tale of bondage, freedom, war, and peace.

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-89290-9

Page Count: 500

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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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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

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