There’s nothing memorable about this watered-down Jhumpa Lahiri–style novel, but nothing offensive either—fans of the genre...

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A GOOD INDIAN WIFE

A fully assimilated Indian-American doctor reluctantly adjusts to an arranged marriage in this likable but generic debut from Indian-born Cherian.

Thirty-five-year-old anesthesiologist Neel Sarath thinks he has it all—a coveted, well-paying job at a San Francisco hospital and a beautiful blonde girlfriend whom he loves, despite the fact that she didn’t graduate from college. But then Neel is summoned back to his rural Indian hometown to tend to his dying grandfather. The trip turns out to be a trick—Neel’s aunt and mother are concerned that he’s still single, and he is pawned off on Leila, an unmarried local English teacher. Neel marries her on a whim for fear of disappointing his beloved grandfather. The deal should be good—Leila turns out to be beautiful, intelligent and remarkably independent. But even after he moves her back to San Francisco with him, Neel is convinced that nothing about his old life will change, not even his situation with his girlfriend, Caroline. Leila plays along for a while, relatively unsuspecting even when Neel does not consummate their marriage and leaves her alone most nights and weekends. She finds her own support group, including the white wife of Neel’s Bengali best friend, and thinks about studying creative writing at Berkeley. Eventually, as Caroline becomes increasingly clingy and Neel comes to understand that her family would never accept him, he starts to take a closer look at the wife he already has. Things come to a head after Neel’s grandfather dies: Caroline had been convinced that after the death Neel would divorce his wife and marry her; Leila, meanwhile, discovers that she is pregnant. The South Asian immigrant fiction market is becoming increasingly crowded, and the awkward domestic San Francisco scenes are particularly cliché, but the prose is pleasant and the characters (save for Leila, who seemingly can do no wrong) are believably flawed and honest.

There’s nothing memorable about this watered-down Jhumpa Lahiri–style novel, but nothing offensive either—fans of the genre should welcome an acceptable addition.

Pub Date: May 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-393-06523-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2008

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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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