We are left with a memorable landscape of oppression but a problematic central figure. Is Mary now a militant champion of...

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THE POLISHED HOE

The sexual exploitation of poor black women in the British Caribbean—in a rambling, plotless tale (winner of the Giller Prize) from Clarke, a veteran West Indian writer/academic/diplomat.

The colony is the author’s own Barbados (here called Bimshire), and the period is post-WWII. Mary-Mathilda is a middle-aged black woman who lives in a spacious house on the sugar plantation, where she was installed by the almost-white plantation manager Bellfeels, who lives nearby with his wife and daughters. Bellfeels’s “Outside-Woman,” Mary started out, like her mother, as a fieldhand, and her fate was decided one Sunday in a churchyard when Bellfeels noticed her ripening into puberty and felt her up and down with his riding-crop, the prelude to his raping her during a church picnic, just as he had once done to her mother. For all her present material comforts, Mary has never forgotten that riding-crop, and she has been readying her old hoe for her mission of retribution and sacrifice. The story spans just a few hours on a Sunday night, when Mary summons the Sergeant to make a Statement. Has she murdered Bellfeels? The Sergeant doesn’t want to know, for Mary is a powerful woman who could end his career, and, besides he has lusted after her since childhood. So there will be no Statement, disappointing the reader who might have been expecting a modicum of suspense. Instead, the pair exchange memories of life in Bimshire. What emerges is a scorching indictment of the island’s power elite, who have connived at rape (including Mary’s) and murder, disposing of bodies and spiriting away criminals. Still, this bleak picture is warmed and softened by Clarke’s celebration of Bimshire life: its foods, plants, rum shops, and the fortitude of its regular folks as they laugh and curse in cadences that Clarke catches so expertly.

We are left with a memorable landscape of oppression but a problematic central figure. Is Mary now a militant champion of women’s rights? No way to know.

Pub Date: June 19, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-055565-3

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2003

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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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