An enjoyable, thought-provoking story but one that doesn’t fully explore its themes.

WOMEN WITHIN

Three women of different generations and backgrounds meet at a retirement home in award-winning author Parrish’s latest novel (By the Wayside, 2017, etc.).

Ninety-two-year-old Constance Maynard, a resident of the Lindell Retirement Home, is a former professor and early feminist who now finds herself diminished by old age and by her difficult relationship with the woman she raised as a daughter. Eunice, a small, wiry woman in her 50s, has worked at Lindell since she was a young woman, after she lost her inheritance on a fake real estate deal for the home’s site. Her unhappy, alcoholic parents did not model a good relationship for her, and consequently, she wasted years and money on men who cruelly used her. Sam, a good-hearted, caring woman in her 20s, sees herself as large and ungainly. Reared by cold maternal grandparents and a single mom who claimed to be the victim of a rape, she now finds solace in reading poetry. Ultimately, each woman finds some degree of peace in the present, although readers may find the outcome of elderly Constance’s story to be predictable. In three sections told from each woman’s point of view, readers learn about each of their lives and how they view one another, which adds depth to their individual stories. Although the book is billed as a feminist novel with “themes of reproductive rights,” these themes aren’t well-developed beyond their direct relevance to the plot; for example, Sam’s birth resulted from a teenage pregnancy, and the woman Constance brought up as her daughter was actually her half sister by a mentally unstable mother. That said, the book does effectively address themes of social and educational inequality, particularly when comparing the life of Constance, a history professor with a doctorate from Brown University, with those of uneducated Eunice and Sam.

An enjoyable, thought-provoking story but one that doesn’t fully explore its themes.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61296-839-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2017

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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