So who’s Anonymous? Who cares? O is a worthy read, no matter who the author.




A gossipy, entertaining novel about presidential politics—and if this roman à clef got any more clef, it’d have to be printed on newsprint.

Who is the O of the title? Let’s see: a sitting president who speaks of hope and change, surrounded by Chicagoans, beset by “a disorganized mob of conspiracy nuts, immigrant haters, vengeful Old Testament types, publicity hustlers, and people who just have way too much time on their hands”—to say nothing of a nastily reactionary Republican-dominated House on one side and disappointed progressives on the other. Fill in the blanks on who you think O ought to be; it’s not important, and we might just as well steal a page from Bogart and call him Doghouse O’Reilly. Whatever the case, this worm’s-eye view of extreme politics is a slightly sharper-edged version of The West Wing, dominated by world-weary but once idealistic operatives who dislike being thought of as operatives and who are loyal to a president who’s got just a touch too much on his plate: health care, climate change, war, terrorism and “a big, fat, catastrophic, global recession, courtesy of [O’s] predecessor.” Much of the action centers on wheeler-dealer Cal Regan, who understands politics for the bloodbath it is, though plenty of other people wander by with recognizable name plates (care to guess at the real-world counterpart of Avi Samuelson, “the president’s closest advisor”?). Happily for the nation, things work out OK for most of those concerned—even if O gets dinged up playing hard games of basketball. Did we mention that the president plays basketball? Well, he does, and if that’s not a giveaway... But no matter. It’s a shame that the book is surrounded by the cynical attention-getting ploy of a secret author, who will likely be outed as quickly as was Joe Klein when he published Primary Colors (1996), for the novel stands capably on its own two feet, and it really doesn’t need the extra layer of glitz its handlers layered on. Still, it probably won’t hurt sales.

So who’s Anonymous? Who cares? O is a worthy read, no matter who the author.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4516-2596-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2011

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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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